Of all the contributors at STACLU, I don’t think I’ve ever fisked Bosun before, but this post is positively begging for it. He credulously repeats the standard religious right rhetoric about this being a Christian nation and, absurdly, cites the Mayflower Compact as evidence. He begins:
This was a nation founded on Christian principles.
Congratulations, you’re the 50 millionth person to make that claim. Like the others, however, I imagine you’ll be just as incapable of defending it. This nation was founded by and is based entirely upon the Constitution. If it was really founded on “Christian principles”, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to point to specific provisions in the Constitution and point to their analogs in the Bible. I doubt you can.
I can point to provision after provision in the Constitution and trace them directly to the writings of John Locke and the Baron de Montesquieu, among other Enlightenment thinkers. Separation of powers? Checks and balances? The notion of unalienable rights? Religious freedom? These things are utterly non-existent in the Bible, and were throughout the history of Christian thought as well. They come from Enlightenment philosophy, not from Christianity.
According to research conducted by my senior editor, Rosemary (at Bosuns original weblogs. Rosemary is not affiliated with Stop the ACLU, I am a contributor here), the very first document, the Mayflower Compact, that was signed and witnessed in the United States. So, if anyone tries to tell you this is NOT a Christian nation, refer them to the Mayflower Compact
And listen to them laugh as they inform you, as i will here, that the Mayflower Compact was not “signed and witnessed” in the United States because the United States did not exist at the time. The Mayflower Compact founded the Plymouth Colony (later merged into the Massachusetts Bay Colony), not the United States, which would not exist until more than 150 years later. The Plymouth Colony was, as the name suggests, not a state but a British colony. You do know that the revolutionary war overthrew British colonialism, don’t you?
That this colony’s founding has no bearing on the meaning of America’s founding under the Constitution is understood by anyone with even a mildly comprehensive education in American history. The society that was formed in this colony could scarcely be more different than the one envisioned in the Constitution. It was not a liberal democracy, as the Constitution envisioned, but a theocracy – the very thing that the Constitution sought to prevent.
There was no religious freedom in the colony, including even for Christians of other denominations. In 1651, Obadiah Holmes, John Crandall, and John Clarke were arrested for holding an unauthorized church service in the home a blind Baptist preacher, William Witter. Clarke and Crandall had their fines paid by friends and were eventually released; Holmes refused to allow his friends to pay the fine and thus he was dragged through the streets of Boston and whipped on September 6, 1651. Is that the sort of “Christian nation” you have in mind? It’s the one that the Mayflower Compact founded.
But the Baptists got off light compared to the Quakers, many of whom were put to death in this “Christian” colony. In 1656, the authorites heard that there were two Quaker women, Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, on a ship in Boston Harbor. They had done nothing wrong; they hadn’t even set foot in the colony. But the mere fact that they were Quakers was enough. They were arrested, stripped and examined for “tokens of witchcraft”. They were eventually released and forced to leave the colony; they were the lucky ones. Other Quakers, like William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, and William Leddra, were put to death for defying the law banning Quakers from the colony.
This is the colony whose founding document you are lauding as evidence that the United States, founded by the Constitution, was founded on “Christian principles”. But the society built by the Constitution was starkly different. Religious freedom is guaranteed, not merely to those in the ruling church, but to everyone. Religious establishments are forbidden. Religious tests for office are forbidden. And all of those ideas came not from Christianity but from Enlightenment philosophy.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were an explicit repudiation of these practices. The Declaration’s insistence on unalienable rights could not have been more in contrast to the theocratic rule of most of the colonies. The Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom and ban on religious tests for office were the beginning of the end for the authoritarian madness that masqueraded as Christian piety under religious establishments.