America Is Not a Christian Nation

Seth Andrews, The Thinking Atheist, tackles the right-wing talking point that America is a “Christian nation”… whatever that means:

The most important rebuttals begin at the 1:35 mark.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Interestingly, not only did the Treaty of Tripoli explicitly state that the USA is not, in any sense,  founded as a Christian nation, but it was UNANIMOUSLY approved by Congress (many of whom were the actual “founding fathers” from just a few years earlier), and it was fully printed in the major newspapers of the day, without even a single editorial or letter to the editor ever opposing this explicit denial of Christianity having any preferential role in the founding of our country. 

    Modern theists are trying to revise history to make it fit with what they wish was true.

  • Rich Wilson

    Another argument that comes up is the Holy Trinity Church vs. United States SCOTUS decision.  However Justice David J. Brewer went on to discuss this in “The United States a Christian Nation”

    We classify nations in various ways as for instance, by their form of government. One is a kingdom, another an empire, and still another a republic. Also by race. Great Britain is an Anglo Saxon nation, France a Gallic, Germany a Teutonic, Russia a Slav. And still again by religion. One is a Mohammedan nation, others are heathen, and still others are Christian nations.
    This republic is classified among the Christian nations of the world. It was so formally declared by the Supreme Court of the United States. In the case of Holy Trinity Church vs. United States, 143 U. S. 471, that court, after mentioning various circumstances, added, “these and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.” 

    But in what sense can it be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that the people are in any manner compelled to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within our borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, “and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in the public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions.

    So in an Organic sense, yes, we have Christian roots.  Our history is Christian in the sense that it’s not Muslim or heathen.  But clearly as a legal organization, it is independent of all religions.

  • LesterBallard

    You mean David Barton is wrong? Or do you mean David Barton is a lying sack of shit?

  • MegaZeusThor

    Seth does great work.

  • ortcutt

    The problem is that these people don’t care about your “facts” and “history”.  They already have a faith-based conclusion and they will happily let David Barton tell them what they want to hear.  Even if they did grudgingly admit all of the ways in which our Founders said they weren’t creating a Christian nation, they’re just going to see that as God working in mysterious ways to create a Christian nation.  Believing in a Christian nation is the political equivalent of Creationism, a self-contained fantasy world.

  • Ned Ludd

    One part of the Declaration of Independence is never cited or mentioned:

    “He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to
    bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian
    Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction
    of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

    This is overt racism and the known rule of warfare attributed to the Indian Savages applies more to the colonists and their descendents  than the Indians. The U.S. up to today has always practiced an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions among those who opposed American imperialism.

  • Sandy Kokch

    For a Brit looking in on US society from outside the goldfish bowl this is a simple case of an argument that is demonstrably proven to be wrong by the facts and evidence. No the US is not a “Christian nation”. It is a secular one, and one of the first in the world to be established as such.


    America is faith driven and clings to religion more than any other western state. Whereas after the mechanized slaughter of the early and mid 20C wars most European states began to become rapidly less and less religious, America didn’t.

    Americans also have this societal thing of thinking that everyone has a right to express their opinions, and that all opinions (no matter how ridiculous) must be given equal consideration. The American sense of fair play and free speech serves to support this dissonance. To the average church going American the opinion of Mr Pastor is equal to or superior to that of Mr History Professor and Mr Constitutional Lawyer.

    Americans, more than other westerners, also seem to have this built in part of them that thinks faith and belief are equal to facts and evidence. One example is the love Americans have for daft conspiracy theories (come on…. 1 in 5 think the government was behind 9/11…the same % that think the moon landings may have been faked).

    Another factor Id chuck in is the chaotic state of US education systems, which result in compromised educations. In almost all European states education is a state run business, where private schools are a small minority, and home schooling is almost non existent by law. Teachers and schools are regularly inspected by government bodies to ensure state curricula are being taught properly. History education in the US seems in a parlous state when in a recent survey just under 20% of the kids polled did not know it was we Brits the US fought in the War of Independence. If they cant answer a basic question like that how the hell do you expect them to know the facts in this vid?

    So while the facts and evidence clearly show the US was established as a secular state on pluralist and humanist values, my guess is it will be a cold day in hell before you persuade the majority of Americans of that argument.

  • Matthew Booth

    In my mind, these discussions are almost entirely irrelevant. The personal beliefs or intentions of the founding fathers can be argued over beers, but the only thing that matters is what they wrote. That only matters today in that it is still law. Anything else is just shooting the breeze.

    The US constitution unambiguously created a secular government. Under that framework, the vast majority of US citizens today are Christian. To argue that the US is not a Christian nation is specious: it’s a Christian nation with a secular government. In my view, the goal of secular activists must be to ensure that the Christian majority understand the benefits of this arrangement and don’t try to change it.

  • Sandy Kokch

     Post 1746 and Culloden the Brit national anthem had a pesky 6th verse all about crushing the rebellious Scots blah de blah. We dropped that.

    Its a bit harder to take a patent Pentagon approved redactive marker pen and scribble out that pesky clause though eh?

    Methinks twas the first example of “political projection” – the favored tool of the right wingers.

  • MKW


  • Guest

    No, it is not a Christian nation.  That should be clear from a day spent in history 101.  However – and this is important – it is not a ‘secular’ nation as currently understood.  The lines of the 18th century would not be as thickly drawn as they are today.  And the purpose of the Bill of Rights was protecting people from the government, not the other way around.  So the Founders would scratch their heads at the notion that we were somehow uniquely a Christian nation.  I think they would say ‘haven’t you read the instructions?’  But they would be equally appalled at, say, the recent string of elected officials attempting to banish a company from their towns because of espousing a religiously based belief.  To miss either of those points is to basically say we really don’t care what the Founders actually wanted anyway. 

  • machintelligence

    You might want to go back and take a look at the posts (and comments) at atheist blogs after the reports about those elected officials. They were taken to task pretty strongly by most of us, as I recall.

  • cathouseumbrella

    “America is faith driven and clings to religion more than any other western state.”
    I always think it’s odd when people say things like this. Surely, the US is one of the LEAST religious countries in the Americas, all of which are “western states”.

  • Guest

    I was happy to see some atheists and progressives jump up and down about that.  Sadly, not all did.  As stories break that the restaurant in question is backing down, read those comments.  There are actually people celebrating the government cracking down on all those ‘religious right types.  Censorship?  Damn tootin.  It works and we’re glad it works!’  So I’m happy and thankful for those atheists and progressives who see that, not only are such actions in flagrant opposition to the intentions of the Founders, but it is also stupidity in the first degree, since we all know from history that the government stripping away freedom is like eating peanuts – once you start, you just can’t stop.  Something, when you get right down to it, that the Founding Fathers were well aware of. 

  • Larry Meredith

    Ask a Christian if people who follow the Pope are Christian,
    if people who ask for forgiveness for sins from a priest are Christian,
    if people who accept homosexuality are Christian
    if people who have sex outside of marriage are Christian
    if people who don’t go to church are Christian
    if people who don’t take the Bible literally are Christian
    if people who wear magic underwear are Christian
    if people who are pro-choice are Christian…

    Once they’re done dividing up who is and isn’t a True Christian™ ask why they believe America to be a Christian Nation when only this very small percentage of Americans are Christian.

    It’s funny how religious people, and not just Christians, love to take safety in the majority when it’s convenient, but denounce most of the people in that majority for not following the right brand of religion.

  • Desiree Bell-Fowlks

    If you are talking about chik fil a, you really missed the point. No one was trying to censor the restaurant.  The protest was about the funding of anit-gay groups that were going to Uganda and trying to pass laws that would make homosexuality illegal.   You are the one displaying a high degree of stupidity right now.

  • James Hotelling

    Even if we were a Christian nation, it seems like atheists wouldn’t exactly be the first ones they should be going after:

  • Rich Wilson

    We are a Christian Privilege Nation.

  • Guest

    Yes they were.  When a government official uses his role as a government official to attempt to punish a citizen for expressing his views, that is censorship by any definition. I mean, there was a time when a record store would refuse to sell the Rolling Stones and liberals everywhere screamed ‘censorship’!  If an elected leader attempted to use his role in the government to do it?  Are you kidding me?  All you’re saying is that it’s not censorship if it’s punishing those who don’t acknowledge the Truth (TM).  Which is, of course, what anyone and everyone  who has ever pined for censorship has said. 

  • Desiree Bell-Fowlks

    And that government official was wrong.  Liberals and progressives were against that too.  Boycotting the restaurant is not the same as censorship.  You are confusing two issues here.  People were protesting the funding of anti-gay groups.  The government official took it upon himself to deny chik fil a the right to build his business.  None of the groups who were boycotting chil fil a supported the government official.  You really do not understand what happened.  I could care less about chik fil a’s owner’s religion.  When he used the money to support anti-gay groups that were passing laws that made homosexuality illegal that was what people were protesting.

  • Philo Vaihinger

    “Whatever that means”? Really? It means most people here are Christians and most have been since colonial times.

    Was that hard?

  • Rich Wilson

     anti-gay groups that were passing laws that made homosexuality illegal

    The groups aren’t actually passing any laws.  They are lobbying for anti-gay legislation.  And they’re not trying to make homosexuality illegal (at least not in the US), they’re trying to make same sex marriage illegal, and make it legal to bully gay kids if your religion says being gay is a sin, etc.

  • Guest

    Yes, that’s my point.  People can disagree all they want.  That’s no problem.  Boycott away!  And I’ll fight to the death your right to do so.  But I mean the government officials, including those now crowing victory, victory in light of CFA backing down.  As well as those saying ‘more, more, we want more government officials punishing those who dare resist the dogmas of liberal diversity!’  That’s my beef.

    I am personally alarmed at the growing number of folks who seem to think it’s time to put an end to all this open and tolerant toward freedom BS.  And it isn’t just one side or the other.  Religious and non-religious, left and right, I see a growing impatience that some are having with those who dare to disagree.  And that, more than anything, is my biggest fear.  Go after CFA all you want, or go and support it.  Either way, hurrah for a free country.  But those who are trying to lobby to get the government on their side – no matter what their beliefs – are the biggest threat to freedom in our nation today. 

  • Desiree Bell-Fowlks

    I wasn’t talking about the U.S.  Chik fil a was knowingly funding an anti-gay christian group that was working with Ugandan politicians to pass laws that would jail homosexuals and put to death for repeat offenders. So far Uganda has not passed the law, but gays are very afraid for their safety and lives because of the animosty U.S. christian groups has caused. I agree that it is bad here too because of the anti-gay climate chik fil a and other anti-gay hate groups are supporting that leads to bullying and suicide of gay teens. These groups are violating the religious freedom of non-christians that believe is gay is okay by passing laws that discriminate against gays.

  • Desiree Bell-Fowlks

    You are not getting it. The government official’s actions were unacceptable.  He was trying to censor chik fil a which is wrong.  People were claiming victory against CFA for their defunding of a hate group.  They were celebrating that no more money was going to a group that was trying to pass laws in Uganda to imprision gays.  That’s it!!  What part of that do you not understand!!  These fictional groups supporting goverment censorship of CFA is all in your mind.  The only groups that are trying to take away freedoms are the fundie christian groups passing laws discriminating against non-believers. You scream censorship and denial of freedom because others want to live they way they want and not by the christian religion.

  • Rich Wilson

    You weren’t clear on “not the USA”.  Since chik-fil-a is a US company, that was my assumption.  As I was writing it occurred to me that you might be talking about Uganda, so I added the “in the US anyway”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree in general, I just think that while we’re making sure we’re accurate about “boycott” vs. “censor” we need to be very careful about accurate language in other areas too, hence also my “lobby” vs. “pass laws”.

    I’ll also mention here that many people who supported the CFA boycott also supported the various politicians who said CFA would not be welcome in their cities.  There was at least one guest post on this very blog, with lots of supporting (and some dissenting) comments.

    There are people who oppose CFA’s support of anti-gay agendas, who get into a mob mentality, and think it’s ‘cool’ for politicians to talk about denying CFA a business license.  Not everyone, but the position does exist.

  • Rich Wilson

    That voice is probably the only thing that would nudge me off a 0 on the Kinsey scale.

  • viddy_well

    So we define nations by their majority now? In that case, America is a white, female, heterosexual, Christian nation.

  • Guest

    Some are, sure.  But others are making it clear that they’re cheering for the censorship part.  I’m  not saying everyone is.  But enough to be worried.  

    Oh, and please stop with the idea that folks you agree with are angels.  The second biggest problem in our age is that people actually believe that those they agree with are pure, perfect, flawless, and always right about everything, but it’s, it’s, it’s – themmmm – who are the problem.  Wake up and smell the coffee.  Why did all those mayors do what they did? Because based on their calculations they thought they would have support for doing it.  And some did support them.  Fortunately – for now- enough didn’t that it didn’t succeed initially (though it did in the long run).  

  • TheBlackCat

     I’m sure you can provide specific examples, then.

  • TheBlackCat

     If that is all people meant when they said that, then it wouldn’t be a big deal.  However, it is used to justify giving Christians and Christianity special privileges and powers.

  • Guest

    I can see the demand for evidence.  After all, I appear to have made the startling claim that across the entire planet, there may actually be an atheist or two, or maybe even a couple liberals, who could be, wow, not perfect.  Naturally evidence should be forthcoming.  Or you could simply visit any one of a hundred blogs or websites featuring the stories in question, skim through the blogs – and this is important – and take off the lenses that say ‘by definition all atheists and liberals are perfect, kind, loving, and flawless,’ and read the bloody comments.  The best example I saw in a brief glance was from this story: 

    Where a hapless poster was lamenting the victory of government officials threatening free speech, and fearing that more censorship would now be forthcoming, only to get this response from someone whose other posts suggests sympathies against CFA:

    “If only that were true.”

    No doubt posted by a radical right wing conservative Christian. 

  • Grizzz

    Good points all. I am a card carrying west-coast, bleeding heart liberal. That said, I see the liberal left getting swallowed up by the too far left that seek censorship, oppression and over the top bullying. A great example of this is the recent A+ movement (and movement is apropos as they are much akin to stinky bowel movements).

  • Foster

    Looking at the original context of the Treaty of Tripoli, it was written as a Treaty with a nation populated predominantly by Muslims.  Of course they said that, in order to appease their partners, and probably no one objected because the Treaty was too important to quibble over such things.  But that does not erase the fact that our supreme court recognizes a special relationship between religion and the government, authorizing public prayer at state sponsored meetings and from the beginning approved state-funded chaplains, or that the majority of the American population is Christian and will likely continue to be Christian since atheists do not reproduce themselves even by converting Christians or other faiths.  Yeah, History is complicated, but “America is a Christian Nation” is a true statement, as much as “America is an English-speaking nation” even if it’s not the official religion or official language of the USA.

  • Flyingmonkeyohmy

    If you use the majority rule then yes it would be, however the founding fathers made sure to state we were not a christen nation for that reason and more. If america is considered a christen nation because the majority of people are, then people of a minority would be adversely affected by the majority. No, America isnt a Christen nation.

  • Barret Coe

    You’d be surprised how much you question the 9/11 bombings when you watch this:

    I know its from a biased source but its the first link I could find.

    You may scoff, but as I see it there are three kinds of people:
    1. Those that believe their government would NEVER do anything to hurt them, and all they do is in their best interests
    2. Those that believe their government would do something like this to propagate their own agenda, but still grasp at straws as to why they couldn’t have done (because believing would mean other things in their life would have to be questioned)
    3. Those that believe their government is perfectly capable of doing anything in their power to do anything they want

    Jet engine fuel burns at 900 degrees
    Steel melts at 1500 degrees
    Start with that question and see how many inconsistencies there are
    100s of lives VS throwing the US into a war for billions of dollars in oil
    I can see the motivation

  • Tjpeck

    Do y’all think that we could break the treaty if we wanted to?

  • john doe

    “America is a Christian Nation” is a true statement, as much as “America is an English-speaking nation” even if it’s not the official religion or official language of the USA.
    That is a really funny joke. 
    US= 13 English colonies.
    America was America more than 100 years before the English inmigrants moved to the East coast and settled the colonies.The rest is well known: genocide of the truly Americans=the natives, and plundered of everything they could.
    History is not a big asset  in the US. It is sort of Hollywoodland stories.