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I noted with interest the comments of John Manzi (”Secular Nation,” Oct. 7, 2008) in the Charleston Post and Courier and sent a version of this article to the editorial department for publication. Mr. Manzi contends that the United States was founded as a secular nation. There is no doubt that there are secular elements in the founding of America, but there are many more Christian elements that Mr. Manzi ignores.
In support of his claim, Mr. Manzi references a number of historical sources. He alleges, for example, that Thomas Jefferson wrote that “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.” There is no record of Jefferson ever writing such a statement. There is no doubt that Jefferson was critical of the clergy and believed that Christianity had been corrupted by Jesus’ followers, but he never described Christianity in the above terms.
George Washington never wrote a treaty as Mr. Manzi contends. The Treaty of Tripoli that Mr. Manzi refers to was drafted in 1797 by Jeol Barlow near the end of Washington’s administration. It was ratified during Adams’ administration. The phrase “the Government of the United States . . . is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion” is found in the treaty. It was designed, as the context suggests, to appease leaders of Muslim nations who were commandeering ships, kidnapping sailors, and selling them into slavery. Barbary was described as “Christendom’s Gulag Archipelago.” The treaty was renegotiated in 1805 under Jefferson’s administration and the above phrase was removed. A 1783 treaty with Great Britain includes the following phrases: “In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity . . . Divine Providence . . . Grace of God.” A treaty with Russia in 1822 opens with these words: “In the name of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity.” The 1848 Treaty with Mexico begins with “In the name of Almighty God.”
The Constitution sets Sunday aside as a day of rest for the President in Article 1, section 7. Just above George Washington’s signature the following phrase appears: “Done in the Year of our Lord . . . One thousand seven hundred and eighty seven.” This is direct reference to Jesus Christ.
The 1776 constitution of North Carolina, that remained in effect until 1868, included the following (XXXII): “That no person, who shall deny the being of God, or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.” North Carolina describes itself as a “Christian State” in the 1868 constitution (Art. XI, sec. 7). This same constitution stated that “all persons who shall deny the being of Almighty God” “shall be disqualified for office.” These truths hardly support Mr. Manzi’s claims.
South Carolina’s original constitution of 1778 states that “no person shall be eligible to a seat in the said senate unless he be of the Protestant religion, and hath attained the age of thirty years, and hath been a resident in this State at least five years.” (Art. XII). Article XXXVIII reads like a church constitution whereby “The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State.” The following were minimal requirements for churches in the state:
1st. That there is one eternal God, and a future state of rewards and punishments.
2d. That God is publicly to be worshipped.
3d. That the Christian religion is the true religion
4th. That the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are of divine inspiration, and are the rule of faith and practice.
5th. That it is lawful and the duty of every man being thereunto called by those that govern, to bear witness to the truth.
If we follow Jefferson’s claim, as Mr. Manzi thinks we should do, that “to talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings,” of which he included God, then Jefferson refutes himself. He believed in God. He was an author of the Declaration of Independence that states that our rights come from “the Creator” and that He is the “Supreme Judge of the world.” He also believed in reason, logic, and numbers. These “things” are not material, and yet I doubt that Jefferson would claim that “they are nothings.”
Mr. Manzi takes John Adams out of context when he states that our second president claimed that Christianity was “the most bloody religion that ever existed.” He was referring to those who corrupted it, and I and other Christians would agree with him. In another place, Adams stated, “The Christian religion is, above all the Religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern Times, the Religion of Wisdom, Virtue, Equity, and humanity, let the Blackguard [Thomas] Paine say what he will; it is Resignation to God, it is Goodness itself to Man.”
Mr. Manzi quotes Benjamin Franklin, but he fails to mention that it was this elder statesman who stood up at the Constitutional Convention and appealed for prayer and made reference to three specific passages from the Bible. His most direct was Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” He went on to state that if we as a nation fail to acknowledge God’s role in the establishment of our nation, then we will do no better than the builders of Babel.
I could go on in my critique of Mr. Manzi’s historical research, but you get the picture. He has gone to the internet and found a few quips, some of which do not exist, strung them together and built a case that rests on historical sand.