Religious Minorities

A declaration of truth for July 4

  Rob Boston

Tomorrow is Independence Day. We hope you have a happy one!

Two hundred and forty-seven years ago, the Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, formally declaring our country’s separation from Great Britain.

The Declaration, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, is sometimes cited by advocates of the “Christian nation” myth to buttress their claims. But it just doesn’t work, especially when you consider the text of the document.

The deism of the Declaration

To be sure, the Declaration does include four religious references – “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” “Creator,” “the Supreme Judge of the world” and “divine Providence.”

What do you notice about these phrases? Primarily, they are not Christian. These are all deistic references. Furthermore, Jefferson is responsible only for the first one. The other three were added by an editing committee.

In his book The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American, my colleague and friend Andrew L. Seidel deconstructs each phrase, noting that while Christian Nationalists may assume that these references refer to their god, there is no evidence that they do.

“The references are not biblical,” Seidel writes. “At the time, there were about eleven major English versions of bibles that the founders could have borrowed verbiage from. Two of the phrases, ‘divine Providence’ and ‘Nature’s God,’ do not appear in any of those bibles. Nor does the phrase ‘Supreme Judge of the World,’ though the bible does occasionally speak of its god as a judge. … And, of course, the Judeo-Christian god is described as a creator – in Genesis and at least five times outside the Genesis story – but every religion that describes a creator-god and deism is defined solely by a belief in a cosmic creator-god. Scholars can argue forever about whether the references are deist or theist, but we can all be sure that they are not Christian.”

Not a governance document

It’s also important to remember the purpose of the Declaration: It’s not a governance document. The Declaration was an announcement to the world that our nation intended to sever its ties with Great Britain and be independent. Its words are undoubtedly powerful, but it says nothing about the structure of government the United States would adopt. That came later when the founders drafted the Constitution, a wholly secular document that does not contain the words “Christian,” “Jesus” or “God.”

America’s founders had their flaws, and the Constitution they gave us was not perfect – that’s why we’ve had to amend it over the years. But one thing they absolutely got right was the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom protected by the separation of church and state.

Take a moment to celebrate that today – and then join us as we work to defend it.

P.S. See here for more evidence debunking the Christian nation myth.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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