“No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to an Office or public Trust under the United States.” Article VI, The Constitution of the United States of America
It was for good reason that the Founding Fathers of this country decided to include the above passage in the Constitution they created to govern the newly independent United States. Specifically, it could be said that they did not want the choice of elected officials to be limited to persons of any one particular religion, and they most definitely did not want an “established religion,” such as Great Britain had, which could lord it over other religions. However, on a grander scale we can also read this section of Article VI as saying that they did not want religion of any kind to interfere with the running of the country. Thus, by definition within the body of the Constitution itself the United States cannot be called a “Christian country.” Yes, we may have many people of Christian beliefs living here (note the plural form, by the way, beliefs, that is, not just one form of Christianity), but this does not make the country Christian in any legal sense.
Why am I even concerning myself at this point with something so self-evident? First of all, there are those who disagree with the statement that the United States is not a Christian country. Many, in fact, believe that it is. For this reason, it is my fervent hope that everyone, conservative and liberal alike, would take the time to read the Constitution. If anyone has not, I highly recommend it as an extremely interesting and enlightening document. And for those who may be wondering, a law degree is not required in order to understand it. Indeed, for the most part I should think that a decent high school education would largely suffice, as it is quite straight-forward, even if its English is now almost two hundred and twenty-five years old.
I was reminded of all this when I read recently about the results of a poll taken just a few days ago among likely GOP voters in Alabama and Mississippi. In Alabama, for example, only 14% said that they believed Mr. Obama to be a Christian, while 45% said they thought him to be Muslim, and 41% were not sure. The results in Mississippi were even more stunning. There only 12% believed him to be Christian, while 52% said they thought he was a Muslim, and 36% were not sure. If we combine the number of people who believe him to be Muslim with those who are not certain (meaning, surely, that “maybe he is”), we get a whopping 86% and 88% respectively among likely Republican voters in those two states.
Now, I hope it goes without saying that I am not trying to make a case here for any one religion over another. Personally, I don’t think much of any organized religion. In my experience, and again with perhaps a few exceptions here and there, I find most of them to be astoundingly bigoted and closed-minded. What is perhaps even more interesting about these polls, however, is what I can only assume to be their strong subtext which, as I read it, is first of all that Christians are better than Muslims, and second that the president is not one of us; he is instead “other.”
Let us leave aside for the moment, if that is even possible, the whole question of race, and continue concentrating instead on that of religion. It was in fact Rick Santorum who stated not so long ago that he believed that Pres. Obama based his decisions “…on some phony theology. Oh, on a theology not based on the Bible.” These are his words. What theology could he mean? Etymologically the word theology means “the study of God,” and is associated only with religion. And while Santorum may have been speaking about global warming, is it too much of a stretch to think that he also wished to tap into the belief, I will even say the fear, of apparently so many Americans that their president is not “one of them” in some very important way?
And so, in spite of what the president has repeatedly stated regarding his religious affiliation, a sizeable number of people in the country continue to disbelieve him. And what if he even were a Muslim? So long as he, or any future president, believed firmly in what John F. Kennedy said about maintaining an absolute wall between church and state, what difference would it make? Indeed, what difference? Difference being the operable word here.
Maybe I was too hasty above in skipping over the whole issue of race. Maybe Muslim, or at least “not Christian,” is in this context code for “Black”? And that in spite of the fact that there are so many Black Christians (note, for example, how many Black fundamentalists have crusaded, and continue to crusade, against gay rights). Maybe in the end we can only say that none of us is free of his or her prejudices. Surely, many would say that I am prejudiced against people of faith. For the record here, let me add that I harbor no prejudice whatsoever against people who believe in the Divine Spirit. I may, however, have my prejudices against organized religion, and for what I consider to be good reason.
Indeed, I believe that it is just for these very reasons that those who founded this country were so adamant when it came to separating the state from the church. “No religious test shall ever be required.” The italics in this case may be mine, but the sentiments are those of the Founding Fathers, and they could not be more true, more appropriate – or more needed – today.