For years, Americans United has battled with Religious Right pseudo-historians about whether the United States was founded to be a "Christian nation." Religious Right activists have cited quotes by Founding Fathers that AU claims are either wrenched from context or fabricated. AU has argued that if our nation was meant to be officially Christian, the Constitution would say that.
Now the moment we've all been waiting for has arrived: the Alabama House of Representatives has weighed in. A resolution that passed recently declares Easter Week to be "Christian Heritage Week" in Alabama.
HJR 415 is quite a piece of work. It cites the Mayflower Compact, a favorite Religious Right trick. No one disputes the theocratic nature of that document. Its influence on our Constitution, of course, was nil.
The resolution goes on to quote language from early governing documents from the American colonies, places everyone admits were sometimes harsh theocracies. One of them is Massachusetts, where the Puritans were so intolerant they actually hanged four Quakers between 1658-61. Is this really a heritage worth celebrating?
From there the resolution quotes an early charter from Harvard outlining that school's ties to Christianity. This is not surprising, given its religious origins. Again, what does this have to do with the U.S. Constitution and the form of government we were given?
Poor George Washington is maligned next. He is proclaimed a great Christian leader, but, oddly, this is followed by a wholly deistic quote. No surprise there. Washington frequently spoke of God in deistic terms. (His quasi-Masonic reference to the "Great Architect of the Universe" is my favorite.) Washington attended an Episcopal church but routinely departed before communion.
The resolution concludes with pro-Christian quotes from an Illinois Supreme Court decision from 1883 and a House Judiciary Committee report from 1853. Why these documents, produced long after the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, are relevant is not explained.
(To read the full text of the resolution, go to this web address: http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/acas/ACASLoginFire.asp. Search "Resolutions" for "Christian Heritage Week.")
The resolution is symbolic and does not have the force of law. Still, it's troubling. These are tough times economically, and if I were an Alabama lawmaker, I'd think twice about sending a message that non-Christians (and their business acumen and money) are not welcome in the state.
The Alabama Senate is due to consider the resolution soon. I suggest they read up a bit. Here are some things that do not appear in HJR 415: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Article VI. It's too late for the House, but perhaps members of the Alabama Senate should read them before they vote on this resolution. They might learn a few things.