The Separation of Church and State

Christian Nationalists want to rewrite American history. Here’s how we’ll stop them.

  Rob Boston

When it comes to separation of church and state, history matters. When people tell lies about history or seek to cover up certain facts they find inconvenient, it’s usually because they have a larger agenda in mind.

In the case of Christian Nationalists, their lies about American history – chiefly, their claims that America was founded to be a “Christian nation” – are often designed to motivate a segment of the population to vote for extreme candidates or back repressive policies.

Setting the historical record straight

That’s one reason why Americans United keeps working to set the record straight when it comes to our nation’s history. On our website, AU explains what separation of church and state means and how we got it. We marshal evidence that makes it clear that America’s founders created a First Amendment that guarantees religious freedom for all. There is no language in the Constitution granting preference to the Christian religion. In fact, the words “Christianity,” “Christian” and “God” appear nowhere in that document. The very text of the Constitution debunks Christian Nationalism.

Over the years, many excellent scholars have joined in the effort to remind people of America’s secular origins. One of them, Warren Throckmorton, a retired professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, has launched a new podcast, “Telling Jefferson Lies,” that you’re going to want to check out.

Debunking bad history

Throckmorton and a fellow Grove City professor, Michael Coulter, who teaches political science, have taken a special interest in the work of pseudo-historian David Barton. Barton is popular in Christian Nationalist circles because he tells people what they want to hear – the Christian Nation myth – but his standing as a legitimate historian is nil. Throckmorton and Coulter dissected Barton’s work in their book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact-Checking Claims About Thomas Jefferson. (Because Jefferson penned the famous 1802 letter to the Danbury, Conn., Baptist Association that contains the “wall of separation” metaphor, much Christian Nationalist misinformation focuses on him.)

Throckmorton’s podcast will take a deep dive into Barton’s past, explaining how this man, who never earned a degree in any relevant field, became the Christian Nationalists’ favorite “historian” and a darling of so many far-right political figures.

The story of how our nation pioneered separation of church and state, the true protector of religious freedom, is a proud one. It’s time we took it back from people like Barton. Podcasts like Throckmorton’s are a great place to start.

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