“(T)his is a Christian nation.” – The Evidence
In deciding the case of Holy Trinity Church v. US, the Supreme Court established that the enforcement of the statute in question was within the letter of the law, but not within its spirit. ‘Labor’ was not intended to include areas of specialization, or what the Court referred to as, ‘toils of the mind.’
“It was never suggested that we had in this country a surplus of brain toilers, and, least of all, that the market for the services of Christian ministers was depressed by foreign competition.”
This alone would have been sufficient grounds for overturning the decisions of the lower courts. However, the Court found the misapplication of the statute especially egregious in this case because the statute had been enforced against a Christian church in its earnest, utmost effort to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Several statements in the Court opinion reveal its agitation, and the Court made a conscious decision to go out of its way to use this case as a platform from which to provide clarity on America’s Christian identity.
“But, beyond all these matters, no purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, state or national, because this is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation.”
It is important to note that, in the vernacular of that time, the term ‘religion’ was often used interchangably with the term ‘Christian(ity),’ and it did not carry the negative connotations of present times. The terms ‘religion’ and ‘religious’ are used throughout the Court opinion. It is clear that the reference is to Christianity, as there is not a single affirmation of any other religion or religious principal outside of the Christian faith.
In building the case of America’s Christian identity and heritage, the Court proceeds with an evidenciary history lesson. The lesson begins with Christopher Columbus and culminates in “a view of American life” – empirical evidence such as the prevailing form of oath administered in offices/courtrooms and the abundance of Christian churches “which abound in every city, town and hamlet…” The most audacious examples provided by the Court can be found in the historical evidence of the various constitutions of the 44 states which made up the United States at that time. The Court begins with this statement:
“Every constitution of every one of the 44 states contains language which, either directly or by clear implication, recognizes a profound reverence for religion, and an assumption that its influence in all human affairs is essential to the well-being of the community.”
A few of the more profound examples provided by the Court include:
Articles 36 and 37 of the declaration of the rights of the constitution of Maryland, (1867): “That, as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty: wherefore, no person ought, by any law, to be molested in his person or estate on account of his religious persuasion or profession, or for his religious practice, unless, under the color of religion, he shall disturb the good order, peace, or safety of the state, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others in their natural, civil, or religious rights…”
“(N)or shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness or juror on account of his religious belief: provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that, under his dispensation, such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefor, either in this world or the world to come.”
“That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office or profit or trust in this state, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this constitution.”
Sections 5 and 14 of article 7 of the constitution of Mississippi, (1832): “No person who denies the being of a God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.”
Article 22 of the constitution of Delaware, (1776,) which required all officers, besides an oath of allegiance, to make and subscribe the following declaration: “I, A.B., do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.”
To summarize the examples provided by the Court: 1) Every man should worship God in a manner that he thinks pleases God, and he is free from molestation on religious grounds unless he uses his religion to molest others (which would not be Christianity). 2) No man shall be deemed incompetent on religious grounds provided he believes in God, is morally accountable to Him for his actions and will be rewarded or punished in this world or the next (Heaven and hell). 3) There shall be no religious test for public service except that the candidate declare a belief in the existence of God, and 4) no person who denies God shall hold any office of service. 5) Finally, when sworn in to serve, all officers will profess faith in the Holy Trinity of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and declare the Bible to be Divinely inspired.
Taken in whole, it becomes clear that modern separationists do not reflect the ideals of early America.
The Opinion of the Court concludes:
“There is no dissonance in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning. They affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation. These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons. They are organic utterances. They speak the voice of the entire people.”
“If we pass beyond these matters to a view of American life, as expressed by its laws, its business, its customs, and its society, we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth.”
“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. In the face of all these, shall it be believed that a congress of the United States intended to make it a misdemeanor for a church of this country to contract for the services of a Christian minister residing in another nation?”
As clear as is the conclusion of the Court on who we are as a nation, they were clearer still on who we are not. This is what we will explore in the third and final installment of this article.