Hercules Mulligan makes the argument here that America was founded as a Christian nation, and this is a recurring thesis among anyone interested in America’s founding fathers. However, he cites mainly John Jay and Alexander Hamilton for support, and otherwise refers to the historical background. Here is his summary:
Our Founding Fathers established a Christian nation – not the kind of Christian nation that was many of the Catholic nations in medieval Europe – but the Christian nation composed of a Christian majority, a nation that recognizes that our inalienable rights are given to us by God, and that it is the Bible that forms the basis of our fundamental laws. That is the Christian nation established by our Founders. It allows those of other religions to live here freely, and they are not persecuted for their beliefs; however, it is Christianity that was meant to shape our world-view as a nation, and others are simply allowed to live here freely and enjoy the benefits thereof.
This approach shows that America was mostly founded by Christians, that its founders assumed most of the citizens were Christians, and that its founders assumed that their understanding of Christian values were necessary for founding the kind of nation they envisioned. It also shows why this should be OK with Jews and Christians whose views were not explicitly represented, as well as those of other religions: “It certainly is very desirable that a pacific disposition should prevail among all nations. The most effectual way of producing it, is by extending the prevalence and influence of the gospel. REAL Christians will abstain from violating the rights of others, and therefore will not provoke war” (John Jay).
The problem is that from a legal and political standpoint, America’s founders did not “establish” a Christian nation. They did not dictate a particular set of beliefs or even require that anything about the nation be maintained as specifically “Christian.” They could have done this, but for some reason they did not. Personally, I think they were reacting to the 17th-century European religious wars and maybe also trying to win support from politically influential Jews, Freemasons, Deists, or Unitarians.
Now then, we can look back on that and say that all these things they said and did are obviously “Christian,” but they just didn’t spell it out. But is that the meaning of Christianity? Is a “Christian” anyone who acts like a Christian and talks like a Christian, who talks about God and about morality, but never goes to church, never talks about salvation through Jesus Christ, and doesn’t hold any particular set of beliefs as necessarily true? No, nowadays any Protestant Christian would call such a person a “New Ager” or a “seeker,” someone who thinks he is saved by works instead of by faith, or even a cultist, but not a “Christian.”
I just listened to a speech by a former politician who cited his reasons why he believed that America was founded as a Christian nation: because the Declaration of Independence refers to a Creator, because numerous inscriptions and plaques in Washington DC dedicate things to God, because America’s founding documents imply Christian values, and because the legislative chambers feature a picture of Moses. However, the same argument could be used to show that America was founded as a Jewish nation, a Mormon nation, a Moslem nation, a Jehovah’s Witness nation, or a Branch Davidian nation. There is no specifically Christian witness, just a lot of references to an ambiguous Creator God and some morality derived from the Old Testament (“Judeo-Christian” values, not “Christian” values).
I don’t have a problem with this ambiguity, but there is no basis for claiming that it presents a Christian witness. Christianity comes from the people and from the local communities of people, not from the government. It is entirely possible that America is not sustainable as a free nation and a constitutional republic without a majority Christian population and the tacit acknowledgment by state and federal government of the importance of religion.
However, if the people of this country abandon their cultural heritage and religious traditions, there is no law, no judge, and no police force who should straighten them up ideologically in some kind of parody of 1555 England, 1642 England, 1794 France, 1979 Iran, or 2009 Saudi Arabia. There is no “Christian” version of brutal government oppression that I want to establish, and that would be the only possible reason for claiming the legal and political establishment of a “Christian nation.”