Neither is God.
Were the Founders anti-God? Of course not. But to them, God was a private matter, thus the private practice of religion is what is protected by the Constitution. As renowned Catholic historian Garry Wills wrote: “The American Republic is the first and only secularly based government in world history.” The legitimacy of the nation rests in the will of the people not “God’s will.”
Rewriting American history from the “Christian nation” point of view leans heavily on the Puritan era. Every schoolchild is taught that the Puritans came to the New World to escape religious persecution. The persecution they escaped however was persecution by other Christians (the state religion) not godless heathens.
Revisionist history implies that the Puritan mission in the New Canaan was to create a new religious freedom however this manifestly was not the case.
The Puritans did establish a pre-American Christian state marked by persecution inside and outside their own community (e.g. the Salem Witch Trials, Indians, Quakers, Catholics.) Colonial citizens were taxed to support the church in 11 of the 13 original colonies and there was a religious “test” for holding public office. In many cases the test was also applied to voting rights. Delaware required that public officials take an oath swearing support for “faith in God the Father, and Jesus Christ His Son and in the Holy Ghost, one God blessed and forevermore.” Pennsylvania required officeholders to be Protestants who not only believed in God, but also in the “divine inspiration of the Old and the New Testaments.” Only New York and Virginia excluded the religious test. The Virginia Constitution, under the strong influence of Jefferson, Madison, Mason, Patrick Henry and Washington, banned the “religious test” and became the model for the US Constitution. The New York Constitution went further:
Guard against that spiritual oppression and intolerance wherewith bigotry and ambition of the weak and wicked priests and princes have scourged mankind.
Fundamentalists like David Limbaugh today insist “that America was founded as a Christian polity which persisted until subverted by a cabal of 20th Century liberals and freethinkers who replaced it with a ‘un-American’ secular state.” Just nonsense. There was no America until 1789, long after the Puritans stopped burning “witches” and cutting off Quaker ears.
The Founders feared tyranny of all kinds, including religious tyranny to which the Puritans showed an easy propensity. As Madison wrote in Federalist Paper #10:
A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points…an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power…have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.
In the bitter 1800 presidential campaign, Christian extremists did great personal damage to Thomas Jefferson. In an anonymous piece written for the New England Palladium:
Should the infidel Jefferson be elected to the Presidency, the seal of death is at that moment set on our whole religion; our churches will be prostrated and some infamous prostitute under the name of Reason will preside in the sanctuary now devoted to the worship of the Most High.
The religionists believed Jefferson’s devotion to the principles of reason showed “disrespect Jefferson won the election of 1800 in a tie breaking vote cast in the US House of Representatives but the damage caused to his reputation by the un-Christian Christian campaign was long lasting. FDR put Jefferson on a US Postal stamp, then the nickel, and finally, the Jefferson Memorial in 1943. It took 125 years after his death.
Because “God was ignored in America’s founding document” campaigns to “fix” this were launched six times over the next 82 years. The first campaign for the “God” amendment to the US Constitution called for a Constitutional Amendment to acknowledge “the rulership of Jesus Christ and the supremacy of the divine law.” The Christian Amendment, in various forms, was pushed with major campaigns in 1864, 1874, 1894, 1910, 1945, and 1954. The attempt to de-secularize the Constitution failed every time it was tried.
Religious tolerance is typically not found in religions themselves. As Will Durant wrote in “The Age of Faith,” “Intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith; tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty, certainty is murderous.”
Facts may be ignored or re-shaped in the interest of a religious political message. For example, Newt Gingrich manipulated the facts in his latest presidential campaign book “Winning the Future,” which includes a DC walking tour for Christians. In a classic misdirection, he cites a Jefferson quote engraved around the rotunda in the Jefferson Memorial. “I have sworn on the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” This is falsely presented by Gingrich as an example of Jefferson’s support of Christianity in government just as it was once used to rationalize racial segregation. However, the quote is from a letter Jefferson wrote to Benjamin Rush complaining precisely about the forces of organized religion and the clergy who tried to destroy him in 1800.
They (the clergy) believe that any portion of power confided to me will be exerted in opposition to their schemes and they believe rightly: for I have sworn on the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny (i.e. including religious tyranny) over the mind of man. But that is all they have to fear from me; and enough too in their opinion.
The Constitutional Convention, after great deliberation, abandoned the Christian state model and the states agreed with them and ratified the secular Republic. The religious right is trying to overturn that vote today through propaganda because they have never had the votes to do it with the truth.