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Does the Constitution Embody Christian Thought and Morality?

Contrary to the claims of many accommodationists, virtually nothing in the Constitution references Christian thought and morality. The only explicit mention of religion is the article VI declaration that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." Otherwise, the Constitution is wholly concerned with the secular issues of defining federal power, and distributing that power among the various branches of government. Quite against the practice of state constitutions, the federal Constitution does not quote or refer to the Bible, does not set up any religion above another, does not refer to God, and does not raise or rule upon religious questions. It is a remarkably secular document for its day and age.

Our e-mail correspondents have occasionally argued that that the structure of our federal government is derived from the Bible; this claim rests on little more than wishful thinking. The most important features of our federal government include (1) a separation of powers among three branches of government, (2) a bicameral legislature, (3) different modes of representation in each chamber of the legislature, (4) a limited executive, (5) and independent judiciary, and (6) a complex system of checks and balances. No model of government found in the Bible corresponds to this outline. Ancient Israel was governed first by Judges and then by Kings; in neither system was there separation of powers (i.e., the executive acted as both lawmaker and judge), nor was there any clear distinction between secular and religious law. Nowhere in the Old Testament do we find anything like a bicameral legislature, or an independent judiciary. Conversely, the New Testament does not contain a model of government; it simply does not function as a political document in the same way as, eg., the Q'uran does in Islam.

Some accommodationists claim that founders derived the principle of separation of powers from Isaiah 33:22, "For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our King; he will save us." Apart from the fact that there is no evidence that this verse was ever referred to by the founders in this context, this argument fails on it's own assumptions: the Constitution sets up an elected executive, not a King, and the tenor of the verse is anti separation-of-powers; it says that all three branches are properly united in one person, the LORD. That the founders would read this verse and derive from it a mandate for divided powers is neither logical nor plausible.

Nor is there any relationship between the Constitution and the 10 Commandments. The Constitution fairly repudiates the first two commandments (i.e., it leaves us free to worship other Gods than the LORD, and to make graven images), and is silent on commandments three through ten. Laws against blasphemy, Sabbath breaking, dishonoring parents, murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and coveting are left entirely to the states.

The secular ethos of the Constitution extends even to the taking of the oath of office. Quite against the practices of the states, the oath of office described in Article II section 2 of the Constitution is completely secular; it is described as an "oath or affirmation," contains no religious references, and need not be taken on the Bible. The practice of saying "so help me God" is not required by the Constitution; it is a voluntary practice initiated by later presidents.

The absence of Christian thought and morality in the Constitution is a powerful evidence that the founders did not intend to create a Christian nation. Indeed, a popular early criticism of the Constitution is that it allowed non-Christians to serve in federal offices, and did nothing to promote Christianity (see Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, The Godless Constitution, ch. 2). If the founders wanted to favor Christianity or Judeo- Christian morality, they failed utterly in that task. This should make us suspect that the Constitution was never intended to set up Christianity as a preferred religion in the first place.

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