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My Take: Why the U.S. is not a Christian nation
July 4th, 2011
10:33 AM ET

My Take: Why the U.S. is not a Christian nation

By Kenneth C. Davis, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Kenneth C. Davis is the author of "Don't Know Much About History: Anniversary Edition" (HarperCollins). He posts regularly at his blog at http://www.dontknowmuch.com/.

(CNN) - As America celebrates its birthday on July 4, the timeless words of Thomas Jefferson will surely be invoked to remind us of our founding ideals - that "All men are created equal" and are "endowed by their Creator" with the right to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These phrases, a cherished part of our history, have rightly been called "American Scripture."

But Jefferson penned another phrase, arguably his most famous after those from the Declaration of Independence. These far more contentious words - "a wall of separation between church and state" - lie at the heart of the ongoing debate between those who see America as a "Christian Nation" and those who see it as a secular republic, a debate that is hotter than a Washington Fourth of July.

It is true these words do not appear in any early national document. What may be Jefferson's second most-quoted phrase is found instead in a letter he sent to a Baptist association in Danbury, Connecticut.

Read the full story here why Davis says America is not a Christian nation.
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Church and state • United States

soundoff (86 Responses)
  1. myweightinwords

    I rather enjoyed this piece, thank you CNN and Kenneth C. Davis.

    As someone who learned American history while under the influence of extremely conservative Christianity, I had to re-learn nearly everything I thought I knew about the founding fathers once I had gotten clean of the prevailing "wisdom" of those who had taught me that the founding fathers were like we were.

    Imagine my surprise when I started reading the actual doc-uments and writings of these men. A lot of questioning took place, a lot of research. What I found on that journey made me believe that this nation is a wonderful, amazing place where our laws are based on maintaining individual freedoms within the broader context of maintaining a healthy society, and not on the trite, oversimplified and biased views of any one religion.

    July 5, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  2. Rodgerick Williams

    Good. I am Christian and America should be a nation of religious tolerence, just as we say other nations should be that are predominantly Muslim.

    July 5, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  3. John Stefanyszyn

    The U.S.A. is not a "Christian nation".....
    The U.S.A. is a "Freedom of Rights" nation...and so are all nations that worship its image.
    It is a belief and way of life that is marked of their foreheads or on their hands.
    It is their core, priority belief which is at the root of all of their other "beliefs"...
    ...some of which are labeled as"religions" such as all denominations of "Christianity", Islam, Judaism, Atheism, etc.

    Christian churches live by, advance, and defend the belief in freedom of religion. ....Ask them....
    .... See their "statements of beliefs." In their churches they speak the Word, but in the world they live by another way of life.
    Islam believers do the same.See what is happening in the middle east and in other nations.
    Jews do the same.
    etc.

    They all turn to their their primiary belief in freedom of rights and religion to defend their existence when attacked and to defend themselves in legal situations.

    Christian churches who proclaim to preach Christ as the Son of the Only God will say that their God is a "religion amongst other religions" in order to win their case. They are ready to deny the true God's Preeminence as the Only Creator God and willingly present Him as one of the religions, to be thus lowered below the belief of self-will, freedom or rights, universal values.

    However, the intelligent design of creation around us speaks clearly that the fruit tree did not start with a seed, since the seed came from a tree, a tree without awareness of its own existence or purpose. Creation declares that the Creator, He who brought into existence all that exists, is the One and Only God and that His Way is the Truth.

    God the Father and His Christ are not a religion, as defined by man, but are a reality of existence, purpose, and hope.

    The True God is not a religion. He is the Truth.

    The return of Christ as King of kings is at hand, to rule the earth with Only Way, the Way of Truth and love for the One and Only God and for the neighbor. There will not be any desire for the "belief in freedom of rights-religion or its god".

    The king of the north has stretched out his hand against Egypt and the Holy land and their old way has died...he will also soon place the tabernacle of his palace between the seas and the Holy City.

    I pray that Christians and man will see their error in living by and advancing the belief in freedom of self-will, and change, and stand for Christ, for there will be "weeping and the gnashing of teeth" when man will go against Christ to fight for his "self-will".

    John Stefanyszyn

    July 5, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Peace2All

      @John Stefanyszyn

      Hey -John...

      See, being a secular republic, with the rights to free speech, give you the opportunity to post your 'opinion'... no matter how terribly off in relationship to reality it may be, (IMHO) or... possibly close to the truth.

      But, to say the U.S. 'is' a Christian Nation, just doesn't make any sense.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 5, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  4. Anglican

    May Holy God have mercy on us all.

    July 5, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • krow101

      Or at least get us another Superbowl.

      July 5, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  5. Reality

    The bible – one of the great con jobs of all time;--

    To wit:

    Jesus was a bit "touched". According to the "book", he spoke to Satan, changed water into wine, raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

    Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction?

    Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

    Obviously, today's followers of the "book", are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices.

    See also:

    : http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    The New Torah For Modern Minds And "Con-Free"!!

    July 5, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  6. Odessa

    Americans should read their own historic do-cu-ments on a day like Independence Day instead of this stupid opinionated news article. Americans must be afraid to read the real US history for the overwhelming Christian-ness of their nation. USA is not a Christian nation; it's too immoral today to be called Christian, but Christians created it.

    July 4, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Selene MacGalloway

      You're either deluded or simply so immersed in your putrid version of religion to know truth. Your truth is a still false no matter how much you believe it so.

      July 4, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Odessa

      Selene, nothing can erase America's distinct Christian foundation and Christian heritage. It'll be as hard as disproving Creator's existence in the science field. You atheists are fools as the Bible says.

      July 5, 2011 at 1:42 am |
    • myweightinwords

      Many involved in creating the United States were some version of Christian, this much is true, and easy enough to see with any amount of reading of their personal writings, however, that does not make the US a Christian nation.

      It is very clear, if one reads the doc-uments upon which the US is founded, as well as the personal writings of the men involved in crafting those doc-uments, that from the very beginning, the US was crafted as a secular republic, standing separate from any religion or belief, for the safety and security of all beliefs and religions.

      July 5, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Peace2All

      @myweightinwords

      Well said.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 5, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Odessa

      Myweight-, that's because everyone was Christian and no one imagined what evil secularists would do 200 years later! Canada was created to spread Christianity, too. Go back to school, you secular ignorants.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  7. Odessa

    Do Americans read anything else other than the few quotes from Jefferson? How about George Washington, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin... I hope someday Westerners will study their own history and world history honestly and realize they were all empty-heads if they didn't have the Bible and Christianity.

    July 4, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Ron

      So, because you 'believe' this, is that supposed to make it true? We are a secular republic. Christianity had some influence in the creation of our Nation, but they also used information from Greece, Rome, and other philosophies as well. Christianity is used but in no way does it mean that Christianity was the major source used.

      July 5, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Odessa

      Ron, because you didn't read ther Bible or study the British history, you can never find out how much your Founding Fathers stole from the Bible and from the Christian British. Only if you stayed with the Greek/Rome garbage! Native Americans would have overrun the English long time ago.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Alyssa

      "I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life I absented myself from Christian assemblies." ~ Benjamin Franklin

      July 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Alyssa

      "It is much to be lamented that a man of Franklin's general good character and great influence should have been an unbeliever in Christianity, and also have done as much as he did to make others unbelievers" ~ Priestley's Autobiography, p. 60, on Benjamin Franklin

      July 25, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  8. alsmeer1

    unfortunetly – man has warped that phrase again......"separation of church and state". that was not to keep 'religion' out of state affairs, but to keep the state from interferring with religion. when they came from England, they were escaping a state run church religion.
    well one thing about religion..... I am glad I have no use for religion. I enjoy a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
    you may kill my body, but you can never kill my faith in God.

    July 4, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • AirborneMedic/FirefighterParamedic

      That is your take on the Separation of church and state. Churches pay no taxes and in return have no say in government. There is not state sponsored religion. Read Jefferson's Tripoli treaty. Congratulations on your relationship with Jesus.

      July 4, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Odessa

      In present America, the separation has become the separation of conscience and state. In such a nation, the Church must fight back and not remain silent on the atrocities of immorality.

      July 5, 2011 at 7:24 am |
    • Civiloutside

      Firstly, it's not a "wall of separation" if it only works one way.

      Secondly, you cannot have a church separated from government interference of you do not have a government free from church interference. Once one religion is passing laws that reflect it's own stance, it is inherently restricting the views of other religions. There is no one-way separation. It only seems desirable if you happen to be a member if the advantages sect (or if you think yours will be the advantaged one, but given the vast number of just Christian denominations, the odds are minuscule that yours will be the one in charge).

      July 5, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Ron

      @ Odessa,
      I do not see Christianity 'fighting back'. What I see is conservative, Evangelical Christians fighting, telling everyone that we are a Christian nation, trying to have laws created based on their beliefs. They are losing power and the nation is moving on. I am glad that no religion rules this nation, including mine.

      July 5, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Civiloutside

      Well said.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 5, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Odessa

      Ron, in the pre-war Germany, Lutheran churches just watched monsters taking over the nation. America does not need to be that way. And the secularists oppress the religious so bad even now. Villains cannot leave normal people alone.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  9. Muneef

    Yes happy Fourth of July for every American... May God bring peace to earth...Amen

    July 4, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Odessa

      Muneef, don't be naive. Immoral, unrepentant nation neither has peace or blessing. Read the Bible to find facts.

      July 4, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
    • LinCA

      Thanks, Muneef. Peace to you as well.

      July 4, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Muneef

      Thank you, my friend. Hope that you are staying safe in Yemen.

      Peace...

      July 5, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  10. Jeremy H

    Don't blame Christians for the "Christian nation stuff"– the Supreme Court made that claim in 1892. A wall of separation between church and state is fine with me. Let us "religious folk" do what we want as long as we don't endanger others. Personal liberty is fantastic.

    Also, I think the "wall" should be raised even higher. Not only should the state stay away from church matters, but morality in general. Abortions, marriage, etc.– that's not the government's business! They are supposed to protect our freedom to choose not choose what freedoms we get to enjoy or not.

    July 4, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  11. Peace2All

    Great article !!! I totally agree. I love Davis' works.

    BTW- Davis has written other books, including ..."Don't know much about the Bible" ... Christians 'should' read this !!

    Regards,

    Peace...

    July 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  12. stephen

    Christianity is not a list of rules, it's a love and devotion to Jesus. A "Christian nation" like the many people want and insist America is isn't possible because you can't legislate heart change.

    July 4, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Odessa

      Stephen, Amen to that. But Christian Church has a holy duty to keep righteousness in society, rescuing babies and educating people on the consequences of deadly sinful practices.

      July 5, 2011 at 7:49 am |
    • Ron

      @ stephen,

      "Christianity is not a list of rules, it's a love and devotion to Jesus." Don't forget to mention, control of themselves and others. Lets not forget trying to have laws created where Christianity or more particularly, one sect of Christianity is the basis of all laws. Having been Christian, I understand your thoughts however, because of beliefs, they generally assume that they should run everything because they are 'gods' elect. Christianity is no better than any other religion. The only difference, is you choose to believe it is.

      July 5, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  13. Daniel Haszard

    Jehovah's Witnesses restrict freedom for their own dissident members..
    They have won 37 of their 46 US Supreme court cases assuring us all of freedom of speech and assembly and equal protection under the law.
    The sad irony is that the Watchtower Society *daily* abuses the human rights of thousands of its members. It denies current members the right of free speech by forbidding them to speak to former members, even close family members.
    And it denies former members their right of freedom of worship by refusing to allow them to leave the religion with dignity, should they come to disagree with Watchtower's practices or doctrines.
    -
    Danny Haszard

    July 4, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Daniel Haszard

      You said: "The sad irony is that the Watchtower Society *daily* abuses the human rights of thousands of its members."

      We are a nation of laws. The sad part is that the thousands of members allow the watchtower socient to abuse their rights.

      I feel no sorrow, for people who won't simply get up and walk out of the church...whatever church. Our const_itution gives everyone that right.

      The Christian Right would take that away. Vote for the Dems!

      Cheers!

      July 4, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Robin Morgan

      Mr Haszard is completely wrong when it comes to his accusation that Jehovah's Witnesses restrict their own members freedom. People point out the fact how successful Jehovah's Witnesses have been in establishing freedom of speech and then accuse them of controlling their members. How's that possible. If one does a cursory investigation of JW's they will find that no one is controlled and all information is freely available to their members, even the "secret" book the leadership of the congregations receive. Everything is in the Bible. How can you hide that? What folks like Mr. Haszard are banking on is that you will read his comments and his hope is they will reinforce already entrenched prejudices mostly based on heresay. Please find out the facts for yourself. watchtower.org.

      July 4, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Daniel Haszard

      Google Jehovahs Witnesses shunning

      Watchtower religion is the *Hotel California* you can check in but not *check out*.
      Jehovah's Witnesses are a cult or high control group because they cut you off (harsh shunning) for dissent of any kind.
      The Watchtower demands loyalty and if any Jehovah's Witness decides to leave because they disagree with doctrine,the remaining family members are commanded by the religion to shun those who have left. They will try to spin it so that it looks like some immorality was committed but most of the time that is not the case. Every member of your extended JW family and all your close friends will now shun you (basically treat you like you're dead) simply because you changed your mind on religion.The Watchtower and many adherants will deny this (lie) to the public and media.
      -
      Danny Haszard born Jehovah's Witness in 1957

      July 5, 2011 at 5:28 am |
    • Tecolote

      Mr. Haszard continues to spew out his hate. None of his comments are true. In our congregation right now there are several people that walked away. They became inactive. One of them comes to gatherings and we continue to encourage her to be active again.
      Shunning, or disfellowshipping only happens when someone is caught violating Bible moral laws and principles AND is not repentant. If a person repents of their wrongdoing they are usually disciplined by losing privileges in the congregation. The only time they are disfellowshipped is if they do not repent.
      So you can see Mr. Haszard was probably caught in some sin that he had kept secret for a while. When he was caught he apparently did not accept responsibility for his actions.
      Many of his comments are on the topic of blood transfusions. He quotes a statistic in his posts that is totally false. For that statistic to be true would require him to make hundreds of posts in hundreds of online news articles every day. Totally impossible.

      July 5, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Daniel Haszard

      Heads up!
      Two comments here that are clearly personal attacks by Jehovah Witness apologist accusing me of "spewing hate again" because I dare to speak out on Watchtower JW abuses that many in the general population know about.
      This is STALKING by cult members and this is what I get for trying to leave the Jehovah's Witness and have my freedom of speech.

      AGAIN please Google: Jehovah Witness shunning

      July 5, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Shamus

      The Watchtower society rules and controls individual Jehovah Witnesses
      The Watchtower WILL ( at least was their practice for 50 years) Ex-communicate / disfellowship any member who takes a blood transfusion.
      Attempts to deny & lie about the absolute control that the Watchtower society holds over followers is another subterfuge to try to save the corporation from lawsuits.
      Shame shame shame...

      July 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  14. David Johnson

    The alternative to a secular nation:

    Christian Right Agenda – Christian Theocracy

    The Texas history books are rewriting history to give the conservative slant. The objective of this effort, is to create a Christian Nation, a theocracy with Jesus as Head of State.

    A huge campaign is underway, to convince the American people, the founding fathers never intended a separation of church and state. Thomas Jefferson's role as a founding father is played down. In some cases Jefferson is smudged.

    Expect an attack on the 1st and 14th Amendments. The founding fathers will weep.

    Most of the Tea Party are for a Christian Theocracy. The Tea Party is in bed with the Christian Right. A vote for any Tea Party candidate, is a vote for Christian Right domination.

    The Republicans are the puppets of the Christian Right and the Rich.

    You will see an amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman. The repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell", will be in grave jeopardy. Gay rights will dwindle and die.

    Roe Vs. Wade will be reversed. Women will once again be forced to seek back alley remedies. Men will be forced to buy condoms on the black market.

    Stem cell research will stagnate. The hopes of damaged and sick people will be dashed.

    All scientific research will be scrutinized by the Christian Right. "If a theory is in agreement with Scripture ", will be the new metric. Get use to hearing "God Did It".

    P_ornography will be illegal. The Religious Right will decide what is p_ornographic , as well as what is art. You will watch television programs approved by the Evangelicals. Lots of reruns of "Growing Pains", starring that Evangelical darling Kirk Cameron. Thank you Jesus!

    Creationism will be taught in public school, most likely alongside evolution rather than instead of, but no guarantees.

    Vouchers will enable parents to send their child to religious schools. Funds to public schools will dwindle. Quality education will be out of reach for the masses. The finite amount of money, will be spread too thin. But what does it matter? It is the will of God.

    Little Johnny will believe in talking snakes and Zombie Messiahs. The rest of the world is spending their time learning real science and math. Good luck Johnny. Can you say: "Would you like fries with that?"

    State-sanctioned Prayer will be in our schools. The Christian Right think they know better than the Founding Fathers and want to tamper with the Bill of Rights. They want to amend the U.S. Const_itution, so that the Government would legally sponsor and take over the activity of prayer. Only the one true god, the Christian god, will be given homage. The non-Christians will be allowed to put their heads down on their desks, during the morning worship. They can contemplate their damnation, for not accepting Jesus.

    $ex education will consist of abstinence only. Studies have shown it is a worthless concept. But, it will please Jesus.

    The war against unions, commenced during the Bush administration, will continue.

    Jesus will be the Head of State! He will be represented by an empty chair at the head of the leadership table. Only the Evangelicals will be able to hear His voice. They will tell the rest of us His will. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

    We will be a slave to a make believe god. If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny.

    Cheers!

    July 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  15. David Johnson

    @Dannn

    The article lacked nothing! It is inerrant! I wrap it about me, like a warm blanket on a cold morning.

    Cheers!

    July 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  16. David Johnson

    This article made my day! I love this! I breathe it in, as I would fresh mountain air. I called my mother and read the article to her! I read it yet again, because it lifts my spirits! It lifts up my non-existent soul! It gives me peace!

    Cheers!

    July 4, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @DJ

      Right there with ya' brother...!

      Peace...

      July 4, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  17. Ted M.

    The Const.itution is the Supreme Law of the Land. That means it trumps all religions. All of them.
    You are not allowed to have little religious conclaves that are little more than tiny theocracies!
    You have to follow the law even in church. The law is the law.
    Equality under the law means no religious laws can claim supremacy in this country. The Const.itution is the Supreme Law.
    Equality means you get the same deal as everyone else.
    Freedom must be equal. Equality must be free.
    Freedom and Independence from religious tyranny means keep it out of government.
    Our Independence from the English king who was just a front for the Church of England is why we are celebrating today.

    July 4, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Ted M.

      Nice post -Ted.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 5, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  18. Auntie Mabel

    Our Declaration of Independence put forth the main reasons why we were throwing off the shackles of England's religious monarchy and the oppression England was visiting upon the Colonies.
    The different Colonies had mixtures of different religious communities within each one. Co-existence was crucial if we were to unite as a country in the face of the brutal tyranny of the English king and the bullying of Parliament.
    Now we have a country that denies every religion the power to rule our country, and we are represented (extremely badly) in Congress by people we vote for. And instead of a king given authority by a church, we have a President who is given authority by the people.
    As for religion, we still have mixed communities with many different religions all living side-by-side.
    Our Independence from religious tyranny continues to this day!
    We ain't dead yet!
    Those leaders in the American Revolution were for the People of the Colonies. That's how we united into a country.
    We allow for the different religions to live side-by-side in peace. They are ruled by the laws of the country, not the laws of a single religion.
    That's Freedom with a capital "F".
    And that's what we are celebrating today!
    HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY EVERYONE! 😀
    Power to the People! *fist*

    July 4, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Ted M.

      *fist*
      Power to the People!

      July 4, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Auntie Mabel

      Well said... Bravo !!!

      'Power to the people' !

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  19. The Bobinator

    It certainly is populated mostly by Christians, but given that the US Consti-tution proves rights that contradict 7 of the 10 commandments I think it's fairly hard to argue that the US was designed to be a Christian nation. Heck, I'm not even looking at the other 603 items in the book of law.

    Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are concepts that are not allowed in Christianity by the order of God. Why would a Christian nation subvert God's law?

    July 4, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  20. Dannn

    A nice article, but it's missing something. Like a good rhythm to the words. Not a big deal. Love the glasses, btw.

    July 4, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Odessa

      Liberals always leave out the most important things. Hiding stuff to keep the mass stupid for their agenda is their way of writing.

      July 4, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, look, it's Adelina the coward, under yet ANOTHER name. Odessa, you are so inept you can't even disguise your crummy writing well enough to fool anyone.

      July 5, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Ron

      @ Odessa,

      "always leave out the most important things. Hiding stuff to keep the mass stupid for their agenda is their way of writing."

      That is precisely my thoughts of conservative Christianity.

      July 5, 2011 at 11:17 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.