Believe it or not on ABC’s This Week, it was actually pointed out that the Constitution is not a religious document.
Here is the video:
Here is the relevant part of the transcript from ABC News:
WILL: Has been for a century. Woodrow Wilson, Crowley (ph), the rest of the progressive movement, set out to say the Constitution was all very well once, but now we’re a more complicated society with more grand ambitions for the government, and therefore what the founders did, which is put the government on a short leash, has to be undone. We have to cut the leash on government, and that’s what the progressive project has been for a century.
LEPORE: Therein lies the origins of this particular impasse that we are in now. I mean, this is a very old impasse. I think the sense of crisis is grossly exaggerated. We have a very adversarial journalistic world in which we’re going to hear more about crisis than not, but the framing of that debate does indeed date to the progressive era when there was a set of arguments made that the document is a document, a piece of parchment, and it needs to be worshipped as such in the way that we might worship other documents that have different kinds of meaning to us in a kind of more epistemological way. That idea goes much further back, and I think indeed it can in many ways be traced to the founders themselves. When Jefferson said the Constitution should never be looked at as the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched, we find other kinds of —
AMANPOUR: You bring in sort of the religious aspect of it. And, today, again, it is something that so many people talk about it as if it was a religious document. There is no word “God” in the more than 4,000 words of the Constitution. Was it — is it possible to say that it was divinely inspired, though it does not say–?
STENGEL: The Constitution, again, I go back to the comparison between the Declaration and the Constitution. The Constitution is a blueprint for the house. It doesn’t tell you what color curtains to have or whether to have it two stories or three stories. It’s a guideline, it is a road map. It’s a kind of guardrail. Doesn’t tell you where to be in the road, but how to prevent you from straying off.
I would say that the Constitution is resolutely irreligious, or outside of the Christian framework that the founders were working in with the Declaration and other things. I mean, it really is — when people read it, it doesn’t have any poetry in it. Right? It’s just a guideline.
This is a point that those on the right miss with great frequency is that the US Constitution is not based on Christian principles. Yet, all too often the media gives those who are proponents of the misreading of the Constitution and revisionist history equal weight as the historical facts.
For instance, almost all of the Republican presidential contenders for the 2012 GOP nomination have gone out of their way to lump religion and the Constitution together, but how many of them have referenced the Treaty of Tripoli Art. 11 which states,
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 Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan 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.
The preliminary text of the treaty was signed at the end of Washington’s term in 1796 was ratified and signed by President John Adams in 1797. Since under Article VI of the Constitution treaties represent US law, the official position of the US government a scant 20 years or so after the Declaration of Independence was that the United States was not founded on Christian religion.
Some Republicans, especially their presidential candidates, have a nasty habit of confusing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Those who believe that America is a Christian nation use the reference to God in the Declaration as their evidence that the US was founded on Christian principles, but it can be argued that the God the Declaration refers to isn’t the one described in the Bible, but the one referred to by John Locke.
The debate on This Week was a bit of a surprise. Rarely are such weighty topics discussed on the Sunday chat fests. The Constitution is neither sacred nor holy. The founders wrote the Constitution with the idea that it could be modified, otherwise the amendment process would not have been devised and included. The idea that the Constitution is untouchable has become an excuse for conservatives justify their using their ideology to dismantle any change that they disagree with that has occurred over the last 100 years. (However, many of these same strict constructionists are ready to amend the Constitution to prevent gays marrying or a woman from having an abortion at the drop of a hat).
The last thing I thought that I would see on network television today was people making the point that the Constitution is not a religious document. The debate itself contains a lot of the usual right wing arguments about progressives and the left wanting to destroy the Constitution, but just seeing this topic discussed was a welcome relief from the weeks of endless Palin/Bachmann/Weiner obsession that has dominated the news cycle.