April 2011 Church & State | People & Events

The Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State sponsored a debate in February on the question of whether the United States was founded to be an officially “Christian nation.”Titled “Resolved, the United States Constitution neither established nor advocates for a Christian nation,” the debate drew a crowd of more than 200 people. The Rev. Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and president of the Norman Chapter of Americans United, argued for the resolution. The Rev. Steve Kern, pastor at Olivet Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, took the opposite stance.During the debate at Oklahoma City Community College, Kern repeatedly insisted that “the Constitution is a Christian document” and that “this country is grounded in Christian principles.” At one point, he even warned the crowd, “Jesus is the only hope for your soul.”Kern also displayed charts that he claims shows that America’s morals have declined since the early 1960s when the Supreme Court removed official prayer from public schools.“The Constitution was produced by Christians,” Kern said at one point. “A text taken out of context is a pretext.” Kern conceded that the Founding Fathers opposed state-sponsored churches like the Church of England but went on to add, “I don’t think they ever intended to keep the church out of the government.” He also told the crowd that he is a “literalist” in interpreting scripturePrescott, a member of AU’s Board of Trustees, countered that the Constitution is a secular document that does not enshrine Christianity.“The Constitution of the United States makes no reference to Christianity or any other faith,” Prescott said in his opening statement. “There is nothing in it that either explicitly or implicitly suggests that our government has a religious foundation. The Constitution, as ratified in 1789, mentions religion one time only. The third clause of Article VI reads: ‘No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.’”Continued Prescott, “The framers of the Constitution wanted the federal government to remain neutral in regard to religion. They had fresh memories of Christians killing each other while trying to force everybody to believe the same things about God – and they were sick of religious conflict. They made sure that the Constitution explicitly prohibited any requirement that citizens affirm the Christian faith or any other faith.Prescott said Kern is “seriously misguided in his understanding of the Constitution,” adding that Americans have been duped by “TV evangelists…who want to see this nation be Christian so badly that they’re willing to distort the truth.”During his closing remarks, the AU activist pointed out, “The secular nature of our government is made clear on the very first line of our Constitution: ‘We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union,’ etc. The people formed this government. No god came down from Mount Olympus. No divine decree commanded that this nation be founded. No pillar of fire appeared to lead our Founding Fathers to the promised land. This nation was founded on the consent of the governed.” After the debate, Kern and Prescott took questions from the audience.Red Dirt Report, an online publication, described the audience as “rapt” and said both men were cordial although “Kern was a bit defensive and referred to Prescott as his ‘opponent.’”Noted the publication, “While Prescott answered questions from a more scholarly, reasoned position, Kern was more emotional in his responses….” Kern is the husband of Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City), a controversial lawmaker who claims she has been called by God to be a cultural warrior. During her time in office, she has attacked gay people, introduced legislation that would allow for creationism to be taught in public schools and insisted that the United States is a Christian nation.The debate can be viewed at: http://au.org/oklahoma-debate.