President Obama described his country in his 2008 inaugural address as a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Unbelievers. The Founding Fathers designed it that way. Although the United States has a Christian majority it is not and never has been a Christian nation. The United States Constitution which is the basic law of the land mentions religion but does not mention God, Jesus or Christianity.
There have been attempts by the Christian religious right in recent years to rewrite history and deny the secular nature of the United States. Their purpose is to impose their beliefs.
James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers which was both an argument for the US Constitution and an explanation of the ideas behind it. Like the Constitution the Federalist Papers mention religion but do not mention God, Jesus or Christianity.
The authors of the Federalist Papers mentioned religion as neither a source of inspiration nor wisdom. James Madison in paper 10 (“The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection”) referred to religion as one of the divisive forces threatening the new nation:
A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.
The English speaking colonists in North America were not immune to the religious hatreds and paranoia sweeping Europe. Witch hunts reached Massachusetts. The Puritans of Massachusetts executed “witches” by such barbaric methods as crushing them under weights. They hanged Quakers. The Founding Fathers wanted no more of such madness.
An early American proponent of religious freedom and the separation of church and state was the Protestant theologian, Roger Williams (c. 1603-1683). Williams was expelled from the Massachusetts colony and established Providence as a place where separation of church and state could be practiced. The General Baptists in England had advocated separation as early as 1611, and the first two pastors of the first Baptist church in England died in prison for these beliefs. Williams declared that the state could legitimately concern itself only with matters of civil order, but not religious belief.
Although some present day Baptists would break down the separation of church and state others hold it dear. They founded Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State in 1947 (AU). The organisation is currently known as Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Barry W. Lynn, current head, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and other clergy are involved. I belonged when I lived in the United States.
AU opposes religion in public life and public schools, teaching of the intelligent design in public school science classes, school-voucher initiatives in the states, and “faith-based” initiatives in the federal government and in the states.
Unfortunately the bigotry of Massachusetts was repeated in other colonies. Maryland was an English colony in North America established by Lord Baltimore in 1632 as a haven for English Catholics in the new world at the time of the European wars of religion. Maryland was not only a haven for Catholics but had freedom of religion for all. In 1689 following the Glorious Revolution, John Coode led a Protestant rebellion that expelled the Baltimores from power in Maryland. The new government then restricted the voting rights of Catholics.
The Founding Fathers shared Roger Williams’ and Lord Baltimore’s distaste of religion as an instrument of oppression.
James Madison, later fourth president of the United States, expressed in a letter to William Bradford, January 24, 1774, his feeling towards religious oppression:
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