This is an important question, and it has several facets, each of which is worthy of reflection.
For the moment I’d like to focus on whether this is a Christian nation in the sense that it is supposed to be one, or at least was one in the beginning.
In this context, the clear truth is that America was a Christian nation—at least that was the intent of the Founders.
There are volumes of laws, court rulings, articles and letters all of which establish that the Founders and those in power for the next hundred years or so wanted this nation to be governed by Christian principles. An hour’s research on the internet, or just visiting the Capitol building in Washington, should make that clear.
But a simple and decisive proof of the intent of the Founders is found in the Congressional Annals of September 25, 1789.
With years of thanks to David Barton of WallBuilders, look at the important action the House of Representatives took on that Friday morning: they passed the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, which reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Easy to read, but what did they really mean? Is this the oft-repeated but hard to find Wall of Separation between Church and State? Doesn’t seem like it. Congress is prohibited from creating a national religion, like many of the Founders had fled in England. And at that time in several states large numbers of citizens were from a particular Christian denomination, so no one wanted one of those denominations to become dominant.
That seems to leave every citizen and every other official entity except Congress free to establish a religion—states, cities, schools, universities, clubs, etc., etc. And the First Amendment prohibits any Congressional restriction on the free exercise of religion, without any limitation. Freedom of Speech is found in the same First Amendment. Just try to tamper with or regulate freedom of speech in the way that people do with religion, and there will rightly be an uproar. Remember, they are in the same amendment passed on the same day. Start thinking that Freedom of Religion is like Freedom of Speech the next time a city passes a law to regulate either.
Anyway, I promised a proof of what the Founders intended that morning with the wording of the First Amendment, in case there is any confusion. We have their words, but when a court or a city council wants to interpret those words as to the intent, how far do we have to go to figure it out?
Not far. Just go to that same afternoon, to the Congressional Annals for that same day:
“Mr. Boudinot said, he could not think of letting the session pass over without offering an opportunity to all the citizens of the United States of joining, with one voice, in returning to Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them. With this view, therefore, he would move the following resolution:
“Resolved, that a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.
“Mr. Burke did not like this mimicking of European customs, where they made a mere mockery of thanksgivings. Two parties at war frequently sung Te Deum for the same event, though to one it was a victory, and to the other a defeat.
“Mr. Boudinot was sorry to hear arguments drawn from the abuse of a good thing against the use of it. He hoped no gentleman would make a serious opposition to a measure both prudent and just.
“Mr. Tucker thought the House had no business to interfere in a matter which did not concern them. Why should the President direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do? They may not be inclined to return thanks for a Constitution until they have experienced that it promotes their safety and happiness. We do not yet know but they may have reason to be dissatisfied with the effects it has already produced; but whether this be so or not, it is a business with which Congress have nothing to do; it is a religious matter, and, as such, is proscribed to us. If a day of thanksgiving must take place, let it be done by the authority of the several States; they know best what reason their constituents have to be pleased with the establishment of this constitution.
“Mr. Sherman justified the practice of thanksgiving, on any signal event, not only as a laudable one in itself, but as warranted by a number of precedents in holy writ: for instance, the solemn thanksgivings and rejoicings which took place in the time of Solomon, after the building of the temple, was a case in point. This example, he thought, worthy of Christian imitation on the present occasion; and he would agree with the gentleman who moved the resolution.
“Mr. Boudinot quoted further precedents from the practice of the late Congress; and hoped the motion would meet a ready acquiescence.
“The question was now put on the resolution, and it was carried in the affirmative; and Messrs. Boudinot, Sherman, and Sylvester were appointed a committee on the part of the House.”
Soon thereafter, on October 3d, President Washington signed the law creating the first Thanksgiving.
Two things strike me about the afternoon activity:
1. These are not men suffering from political correctness, or trying to slip a Christian message in by stealth. This is up front and in your face about God’s gifts to the nation, and the proper response as Christians. In a federal law. Unless they had a really bad lunch, the men who passed this resolution could not have erected a Wall of Separation between Church and State that morning. Just the opposite.
2. There were those on the other side of this issue, even then. There was real, intelligent debate on the merits. But when the vote came, those who wanted to thank God for His aid in creating the nation and the Constitution won the vote. And the thanksgiving expressed in the law and in President Washington’s proclamation are clearly addressed to the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible, not to Allah, or to a generic Light Force. The thanksgiving was addressed to God, whom the Founders clearly credited with bringing this nation into being.
So I believe that it is clear, as a simple but important historic fact, that the United States was intended by its Founders to be a Christian nation. Christian principles were the foundation for the nation’s laws and society, with no denomination dominating, and with everyone able to express his or her faith in the public square of daily life without hindrance of any kind.