First Amendment Establishes Christianity as State Religion?

Jul 26 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

David Barton: Dishonest as the Day is Long

According to David Barton, Father of Lies, we’ve been getting it all wrong, folks. The First Amendment didn’t establish freedom of religion; it established Christianity as the official religion of the United States, even though it says “”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The AFA’s Bigot King Bryan Fischer, another apparent illiterate, agrees with him. Barton has some other odd ideas too, that pluralism somehow springs from non-pluralism and that only a Christian nation is tolerant and thus truly pluralistic.

If your brain just froze up, don’t sweat it; Barton’s apparently froze up at birth. If nobody can be this stupid they can be this dishonest. In the end, it doesn’t matter what is diagnosed as the cause of Barton’s malfunction. What matters is that he says this kind of crazy stuff and people nod their heads and agree; worse, potential presidents nod their heads and agree, like Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee. Armed fundamentalist Christian militias believe this stuff. You saw the other day in Norway what just one well-armed more-than-saved Christian can do.

This presents a serious problem for sane people in America.

What is stunning is that even reactionary old Pope Benedict XVI sees the fallacy here. Writing as Cardinal Ratzinger (and head of the office of the inquisition) Benedict authored a book called “Truth or Tolerance” in which he argued that Truth trumps tolerance.  He understood that they are two mutually contradictory forces. Tolerance does not stem from Truth (we are talking capital-T Truth here) Barton seems to think that the two can coexist, indeed, that the latter is a necessary condition for the former. But history tells us otherwise.

A.H. Armstrong (a real scholar with a real education, unlike David Barton and Bryan Fischer) relates for us the legacy of Christian intolerance:

The choice of the way of intolerance by the authorities of Church and empire in the late fourth century has had some very serious and lasting consequences. The last vestiges of its practical effects, in the form of the imposition of at least petty and vexatious disabilities on forms of religion not approved by the local ecclesiastical establishment, lasted in some European countries well into my lifetime.

For the record, Armstrong was writing in 1984.

And theoretical approval of this sort of intolerance has often long outlasted the power to apply it in practice. After all, as late as 1945 many approved Roman Catholic theologians in England, and the Roman authorities, objected to a statement on religious freedom very close to Vatican II’s declaration on that subject. In general, I do not think that any Christian body has ever abandoned the power to persecute and repress while it actually had it. The acceptance of religious tolerance and freedom as good in themselves has normally been the belated, though sometimes sincere and whole-hearted, recognition and acceptance of a fait accompli. This long persistence of Theodosian intolerance in practice and its still longer persistence in theory has certainly been a cause, though not the only cause, of that unique phenomenon of our time, the decline not only of Christianity but all forms of religious belief and the growth of a totally irreligious and unspiritual materialism.[1]

If you want to know how tolerant Christianity has been when it has been in control, you need only look at the Theodosian Code, which remained in force through much of Christian history, long after the Roman Empire fell, as Thomas Jefferson recognized:

 “By our own act of Assembly of 1705, c. 30, if a person brought up in the Christian religion denies the being of God, or the Trinity, or asserts there are more gods than one, or denies the Christian religion to be true, or the Scriptures to be of divine authority, he is punishable on the first offense by incapacity to hold any office or employment, ecclesiastical, civil, or military; on the second, by disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy, to be guardian, executor, or administrator, and by three years’ imprisonment without bail. A fathers right to the custody of his own children being founded in law on his right of guardianship, this being taken away, they may of course be severed from him, and put by the authority of the court, into more orthodox hands. This is a summary view of that religious slavery under which a people have been willing to remain, who have lavished their lives and fortunes for the establishment of civil freedom.”

To show you how important repression is to Christian authorities, how opposed to pluralism is Christianity historically, this ban on holding office or military command is direct from the Theodosian Code of twelve centuries earlier. That’s a long time to ban pluralism. And this sort of law is the context of the First Amendment, Jefferson’s own knowledge of history and experiences. It is the reason for Jefferson’s Virgina Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786) in which Jefferson wrote “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions.”

We are to believe that if Christianity were made the state religion today it would be any different?

We already know it wouldn’t. We’ve seen demands for candidates to be Christians against the wording of the Constitution itself, Article VI Paragraph 3, which overturns the Theodosian Code, that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”  We have seen the experience of Cecil Bothwell, a North Carolina atheist denied public office; we have seen the price a candidate pays when it is believed she might be a witch; or when he’s a Muslim; we have seen what happens to employees if it is thought she might be a witch.

I’m sorry folks, but historically, embracing pluralism isn’t something Christianity is real good at. Just the opposite in fact.

I can speak from my own experience and knowledge here: ask any pagan about discrimination and second-class citizen status and you will find out what persecution is really like. The fundamentalists and their ignorant allies are the persecutors, not the victims. They are not the ones threatened with job loss, the loss of friends and families, and even the loss of a roof over their head if their religion is discovered.

If more convincing is needed, look at the long list of Christian laws against beliefs and activities it did not approve of. Jefferson recognized the consequences:

“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned: yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.”[2]

Armstrong concludes that “the triumph of Christianity carried in it, as perhaps all such triumphs do, the seeds of future defeat. The Church in the fourth century took what it wanted and has been paying for it, in one way or another, ever since.”[3] That Christianity has never learned this lesson can be proven through the simple act of opening your eyes to the world around you.

The Founding Fathers opened their eyes to the world around them; they were students of history if Barton is not; they knew this. That is why they purposely did not establish a state religion; that is why they wrote the First Amendment, to protect us from the evils of state-sponsored religion.

They cannot be blamed for not foreseeing somebody claiming the First Amendment says exactly the opposite of what it says, and one can only imagine their outrage at finding the forces they purposely sought to neuter turning the First Amendment on its head and using it as an argument for state sponsorship of religion.

Supporting Materials:

Please do read the following for a proper understanding of the points of view of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison

Thomas Jefferson. The Virginia Statues for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786)
James Madison. A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785)

 You will see that the establishment of Christianity as a state religion was the furthest thing from either man’s mind.


[1] A.H. Armstrong, “The Way and the Ways: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in the Fourth Century A.D.” Vigiliae Christianae 38 (1984), 1-2. Emphasis added

[2] Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on Virginia, Query XVII, The Different Religions Received into the State” The Works of Thomas Jeffersion, Paul L. Ford, ed. (NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), Vol. IV: 296.

[3] Armstrong, (1984), 1-2.

44 responses so far