Sunday, January 16, 2011

We are not a Christian Nation, Part 1

In 1885, a law was passed that modified the U.S. Code to prohibit "the importation and migration of foreigners and aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor or service of any kind in the United States, its territories, and the District of Columbia." The law came to the Supreme Court, and it was decided that the Holy Trinity Church, who hired an English preacher, did not violate the law. According to Justice Brewer, who issued that decision:

     "The circuit court did err when it held that the contract hiring an English rector was within the prohibition of the statute, which disallowed a '...person, company, partnership, or corporation, in any manner whatsoever to prepay the transportation, or in any way assist or encourage the importation or migration, of any alien or aliens, any foreigner or foreigners, into the United States ... under contract or agreement ... to perform labor or service of any kind in the United States....'"

What was curious about the case was a specific quote contained in the decision, written by Justice Brewer. He wrote, "these, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation". This quote has helped to give rise to the belief that through this case the Supreme Court established the United States as a Christian nation. Of course, this was a misinterpretation and is clearly not the case. Justice Brewer, in 1905, realized the confusion that this could create and wrote this lengthy bit:

     "But in what sense can the United States be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that 'congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or in name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all . . . Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions."

This case did not establish us as a Christian nation, Brewer was simply referring to the fact that there is a Christian majority and used it to support the decision. Repeat: we are a nation of Christians, not a Christian nation. 

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