Senator John McCain’s recent comments about America’s heritage as a “Christian nation” ignited an ill-tempered blast of self-righteous condemnation – a reaction that highlighted the widespread misunderstandings, distortions and downright ignorance surrounding the nation’s founders and their view of religion’s role in society.
Asked a question about a recent poll that showed 55% of the public believing that “the Constitution establishes a Christian nation,” McCain responded: “I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn’t say, ‘I only welcome Christians.’ We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council, a partisan group affiliated with the Democratic Party, denounced McCain’s remarks as “repugnant.” The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) said that the Arizona Senator’s comments went “against the traditions of American pluralism and religious pluralism and inclusion.” The general counsel of the mainstream American Jewish Committee declared that “to argue that America is a Christian nation… puts the very character of our country at stake.”
Meanwhile, Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center, made the most sweeping and profoundly misleading comments. Regarding the poll that provoked the McCain controversy in the first place, he noted that its results “suggest that a great many people have deeply misunderstood the Constitution. The framers clearly wanted to establish a secular nation…”
Like so many other commonly held convictions about the role of faith in the nation’s founding this politically correct contention isn’t just confused and unfocused; it is, rather, appallingly, demonstrably and inarguably wrong.
In order to put today’s church-state controversies into proper perspective, we must first clear-away some of the ubiquitous misinformation that pollutes are present public discourse. Honest historians and fair-minded observers will acknowledge eight undeniable and sometimes uncomfortable truths: