Sarah Palin was on The O’Reilly Factor yesterday on the occasion of the National Day of Prayer where she once again repeated her assertion that America is a “Christian Nation” and that our laws should be based on the Bible:
Palin, however, views the evolution of America from a strictly Christian nation to a religiously diverse one as “a step towards the fundamental transformation of America” and encouraged people to “keep this clean, keep it simple. Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant– they’re quite clear– that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandents, it’s quite simple.” Creating law based on a specific religion doesn’t sound at all like separation of church and state, but Palin countered that with a message to Americans that do not share her religious background: “Yay, welcome to America!”
There is, of course, plenty of evidence to show that Palin’s assertion that America was intended to be a “Christian Nation” based on the Bible is fundamentally wrong.
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen [Muslims]; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
Second, there’s the fact that Palin is historically wrong about the national motto. Until 1956, the United States did not have a national motto established by law, and the only one used was E Pluribus Unum (Out Of Many, One)
Moreover, the argument against the “Christian Nation” myth extend far beyond the Treaty of Tripoli quoted above:
[H]ow about the tenth president, John Tyler, in an 1843 letter: “The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent — that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mohammedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma, if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions.”
Was Tyler too minor a president to be considered an authority on whether the U.S. is a Christian republic or not? Here’s George Washington in a letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790: “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support … May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
And, finally, there is very little relationship between the natural rights theories upon which the Declaration and Constitution was founded and Judeo-Christian thought:
In reality, neither Jewish nor Christian traditions know anything of the ideas of natural rights and social contract found in Hobbes, Gassendi and Locke. That’s because those ideas were inspired by themes found in non-Christian Greek and Roman philosophy. Ideas of the social contract were anticipated in the fourth and fifth centuries BC by the sophists Glaucon and Lycophron, according to Plato and Aristotle, and by Epicurus, who banished divine activity from a universe explained by natural forces and taught that justice is an agreement among people neither to harm nor be harmed. The idea that all human beings are equal by nature also comes from the Greek sophists and was planted by the Roman jurist Ulpian in Roman law: “quod ad ius naturale attinet, omnes homines aequales sunt” — according to the law of nature, all human beings are equal.
The sum of what America was really founded upon, of course, isn’t found in theology, or in Sarah Palin’s brain, but in something Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes On The State Of Virginia:
“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”