A Mistake Of Biblical Proportions: Dobson, Robertson Are Wrong About America Yet Again

It seems as if whenever a national debate on the merits of incorporating religious dogma into public policy arises the Religious Right uses the opportunity to recycle the same old tired line: America is a Christian nation.

As part of my morning routine here at Americans United, I tune into both Pat Robertson's 700 Club and James Dobson's Focus on the Family radio broadcast whenever the church-state debate takes center stage with the mainstream media.

With Stupak, the Catholic bishops' health-care amendment, moving in Congress, we figured Religious Right leaders would be using their soapboxes to support this aggressive attack on the wall of separation.

We were right.

Dobson today asserted that if this nation continues to draft policy straying from its "foundational Christian principles," he would resist, choosing to "pay ruinous fines...go to prison...or even leave this beloved country and spend the rest of [his] life in exile."

Stunningly, Robertson took an even bolder stance: "America was founded as a Christian nation," he began. "We came...with traditions based in the Old Testament and the New Testament. There are so many things in our Constitution and our government that came straight out of the Bible. We were without question a Christian nation.

"The Supreme Court said 'you're a Christian nation' – 1892 -- and suddenly, suddenly within the last 30 to 40 years these activist groups have used the court to manipulate the point of view that says: you are not a Christian nation, you're essentially an atheist nation or you're a nothing and it's against the Constitution to bring forth your faith."

It seems as if whenever a national debate on the merits of incorporating religious dogma into public policy arises the Religious Right uses the opportunity to recycle the same old tired line: America is a Christian nation.

It's not.

The United States began as a novel experiment in government. The framers of the Constitution established founding documents that patently separated the role of the government from the role of the church. James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and others explicitly rejected the notion of a Christian nation and, instead, strongly established a clear and well-defined boundary between church and state.

Unable to accept this truth, the Religious Right frequently points to the 1892 case Holy Trinity v. United States. As part of the decision, which is considered an all-but-forgotten legal anomaly, Justice David Brewer declared in dicta that America is a "Christian nation."

However, in 1905, Brewer clarified his position, writing that America is not a Christian nation "in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it," but rather simply in the sense that many of its citizens belong to Christian denominations.

"In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions," Brewer wrote.

In 1985, as Robertson and his supporters were gearing up to celebrate the centennial of the Trinity decision, the high court in Wallace v. Jaffree set the record straight. Justice John Paul Stevens held, in no uncertain terms, that the Constitution mandates "equal respect for the conscience of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Mohammedism or Judaism.

"The court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all," wrote Justice Stevens.

Through numerous court decisions, treaties and general practice, as well as the rejection of proposals recommending constitutional amendments that would define America as a "Christian nation," our government continues time and time again to reassert that we are not a Christian nation.

As author and AU Assistant Director of Communications Rob Boston has argued, "Generally...when Religious Right leaders use the term 'Christian nation,' they are referring to their desire to see the nation's laws reflect the narrow sectarian principles they themselves hold."

America is a safe haven for all believers and non-believers alike. If right-wingers like James Dobson and Pat Robertson can't handle that, they can, by all means, make good on their threats to go ahead and leave.