Is America a Christian nation? No.

The Founders knew acutely the pains of centuries of religious warfare in modern Europe and resoundingly did not want that for their new nation. Many of them moreover knew religious persecution intimately — some whose families fled the Church of England for fear of being imprisoned, burned at the stake, or worse. Is America a Christian nation? In a historical sense, this may arguably be true — but in a legal and political sense, it is not.

In fact, the people who founded the United States explicitly saw religious zealotry as one of the primary dangers to a democratic republic. They feared demagoguery and the abuse of power that tilts public apparatus towards corrupt private interest. The Founders knew that religion could be a source of strife for the fledgling nation as easily as it could be a strength, and they took great pains to carefully balance the needs of religious expression and non-religious interests in architecting the country.

Here are a few of the ways we know that the nation’s founders were against the idea of theocracy in America:

  • The founding fathers made a conscious break from the European tradition of a national state church.
  • The handful of states who who supported “established churches” abandoned the practice by the mid-19th century.
  • Thomas Jefferson wrote that his Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom was written on behalf of “the Jew and the gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu and the infidel of every denomination.”
  • The Constitution explicitly forbids a religious test for holding foreign office.
  • The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”