Founding Fathers

As today is the Fourth of July, many people are posting the text of documents like The Declaration of Independence or the Preamble to the Constitution. I prefer to post part of another, lesser known document that was approved by President John Adams and Congress in 1796 - the Treaty of Tripoli. From Article 11 of that treaty_

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan 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.

So, at a time when the founding fathers still dominated US politics, a document was approved that explicitly states that we were not, in fact, founded as a "Christian Nation". Mull that one over, religious right winguts.


Written by Jason -

Okay, I'll mull it over and show you where you're wrong. First off, you claim this part of the treaty proves America was not founded as a Christian nation. Your claim is false. The section begins, "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." Did you catch it? "As the GOVERNMENT" not "as the NATION." Our government is not the whole of the nation. The nation is the people and their society, which were both very much Christian back then and are still primarily Christian today. The government was rightly created to be neutral. Next, there is a rather interesting fact about that part of the treaty_ it was not reproduced in any form in the non-English version. Why is that? Finally, you are quoting a defunct version of the treaty. The Treaty of Tripoli was renegotiated years later and that entire part of the original treaty was dropped. What you are doing is tantamount to laughably quoting some old judicial ruling that states that slavery is legal and claiming it means that slavery is still legal today. Sorry, but the Treaty of Tripoli canard doesn't fly. Try something else.

Written by Chris -

a) The fact that the treaty is defunct is completely irrelevant to my point. The treaty wasn't changed because of the phrase I'm pointing out. It was changed because the Pasha of Tripoli broke his end of the bargain, voiding the treaty and forcing them to renegotiate years later. b) If the article was not included in the Arabic version (a point that is controversial), it still doesn't change what I'm saying. The point is that this bill was read aloud in Congress and approved unanimously. Could you imagine the uproar if any phrase of that nature appeared in a treaty or law today? c) The phrase "Christian Nation" that I'm attacking is nearly always invoked in connection with claims that religious ideals should be somehow endorsed by the state. (Ten commandments in courtrooms, prayer in public schools, etc). This is the usage that I'm attacking, and I believe you know that. Don't play semantics with me. d) Lastly, I agree with you that the government was created to be neutral in all matters religious, which is the point I'm trying to make here. Our government is secular, and should not favor Christians, as it does in a multitude of ways at the present. I hope that you are sincere in this belief, because secular government is a goal that should have support from all sides of the political spectrum.

Written by Jason -

a) The treaty being defunct is completely relevent. Consider my judicial ruling analogy again. You are trying to use something that was abandoned to prove your point. And I never said the treaty was changed because of Article 11. I said it was completely dropped when the treaty was renegotiated. Why, if that article was so important, was it dropped the second time around? b) Again, it is completely relevent that Article 11 was not in the Arabic version. Why wasn't it? It obviously was written supposedly to give the Muslims comfort that our government wasn't Christian. Did the those who ratified it feel that they themselves and only they themselves needed the assurance and the reminder that the government wasn't founded on Christianity? And perhaps it is because the article used the word "government" and not "nation" that it was so readily ratified. I can't see anyone causing much of an uproar if that phrase were used today. c) You can certainly attack the phrase "Christian nation," but you cannot attack it with the defunct version of the Treaty of Tripoli. Furthermore, you really need to bone up on what "endorsement" means. If there is no law passed by Congress to compel people to follow one religion, there is no endorsement present. A Ten Commandments plaque hung on the wall by a judge in his courtroom is not an endorsement of religion. Voluntary prayer in schools is not an endorsement of religion. A war memorial in the shape of a cross is not an endorsement of religion. The president invoking the name of God is not an endorsement. The Latin phrase "Laus Deo" on the top of the Washington Monument is not an endorsement of religion. The Supreme Court starting out each session with the phrase "God save the United States and this honorable court" is not an endorsement of religion. One has to wonder where the semantic games are truly going on. d) A government that promotes secularism is not a government neutral towards religion. It is a government that is antagonistic against religion. That is most definitely not what the Founders wanted.

Written by Chris -

I'm not going to argue the nuances of the treaty with you, because as I've said, they're irrelevant to my point. In response to c and d_ Statements like "In God we trust" or "under god" in the pledge of allegiance are absolutely endorsement of religion by the government. By affirming belief in a god, they are disaffirming the beliefs of the 30 million or so atheists in this country. They also implicitly discriminate against any religions that aren't monotheistic. That's not neutrality at all.

Written by Kevin Hayden -

A government that promotes secularism is not a government neutral towards religion. It is a government that is antagonistic against religion. Secularism_ 1) Religious skepticism or indifference. 2) The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education. Clearly, the Supremes have maintained the latter view, at least in public education, yet I have seen no hostility towards religion in their doing so. They've instead promoted the concept that showing favoritism of one religion over the other is wrong because it compels people of other faiths to participate in words and actions they may disagree with. In short, they promote secularism to protect individuals from the tyranny of the majority, an entirely different concept than hostility.

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