Founded On Freedom: Treaty With Tripoli Reminds U.S. Of Our Origins

A new year is just getting started and Religious Right activists are already agitating for a government based on their fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

Blogger Shane Vander Hart discusses a new book by Dr. Wayne Grudem, professor of systematic theology at Phoenix Seminary, called Politics According to the Bible. In Grudem’s tome, he claims that anyone who thinks the government should exclude religion is plain wrong.

Grudem and Hart believe groups that advocate for that view don’t want religious people to participate in public life or vote. They argue that Americans United and our allies just want religious people to be quiet and stay home.

But if they really took a moment to understand Americans United and our mission, they would see that’s not at all what we advocate. We believe all Americans, religious or not, should participate in our democracy, at least if they choose to do so.

We only insist is that no one should try to impose his or her religion on others through governmental force. The government should remain neutral on matters of faith, in order to make the United States a welcoming place for believers and non-believers alike.

That was the intention of the nation’s founders. Not only is this clear in Constitution, it is further supported by other early governmental documents, including the Treaty with Tripoli, which celebrated its 214th anniversary yesterday.

Most of the document, which unanimously passed the U.S. Senate and became the law of the land by June 10, 1797, dealt with commercial matters and procedures for maritime trade. But Article 11 included an important section on religious freedom.

The article reads in part, “As the government of the United States of America is not founded in any sense on the Christian religion – as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims] – and as the said states have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

It couldn’t be any clearer that our founders did not intend the United States to be an officially Christian nation, or to have a government that enforces a particular religion.

Grudem and Hart may not value keeping religion and government separate, but they should.  It’s because of church-state separation that they are free to practice the faith of their choice.

All Americans deserve that freedom. But if the Religious Right continues to lobby the government to base our laws on their narrow fundamentalist viewpoint, that freedom could be lost for all.

Grudem and Hart may not care – so long as their faith rules – but I’m pretty sure most Americans would.

Our Founders knew that the only way to ensure religious freedom was to keep religion and government separate. That’s the idea they articulated 214 years ago in the Treaty of Tripoli, and it’s proven to be quite the success.

For the full back story on the Treaty of Tripoli, check out this article by my colleague Rob Boston.