These are among the most common questions we are asked about America's Christian Heritage and similar topics:
Q: Isn't there a 'separation between church and state' that dictates nothing faith-based can be allowed in government?
A: Despite Supreme Court cases and opinions especially in recent times to the contrary, the truth is that no such impenetrable seperation was ever devised or preferred by the originator of the phrase. The very author of the phrase proved by his actions that he never intended for that to be the result.
To give some background, President Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptists in Connecticut in 1802 commending the concept of a 'wall of separation between church and state'. The truth is that he was addressing their concern that the federal government would interfere with their affairs within the church. President Jefferson was attempting to allay any concerns they had that he thought a wall should be in place to protect them from that happening.
However, the truth is that neither party wanted nor would they have agreed to an impenetrable wall as some today claim we have which disallows any cooperation between the government and faith. We know this is irrefutably the case because President Jefferson, as is archived on the Library of Congress website, attended church services at the U.S. House of Representatives Chamber in the U.S. Capitol (a government building on government property) just two days following his letter to the Danbury Baptists on Sunday, January 3, 1803. Had he seriously intended for a complete wall of separation (especially without government having any influence from religion), he would certainly have not condoned such a service, let alone attended it so soon after the letter was written.
Q: Is it true what some have said that we aren't a 'Christian Nation' but that we are just a secular nation?
A: There are varying views on just exactly what a 'Christian Nation' consists of and whether the United States qualified as such considering a Constitution devoid of traditional sectarian references. However, even in that document and other organizational documents during the birth of our republic, there were references that made it incontrovertably true a uniquely Christian Influence was present.
For example, Sundays were excepted for the President of the United States for bills to be considered for passage. This was exclusively a Christian day of celebration as it was the day worship was selected to coincide with Christ rising from the dead, unlike other faiths at the time which conducted worship services on Friday night or Saturday.
Furthermore, the phrase 'Anno Domini' was used at the end of the Constitution which translates from Latin as 'The Year of Our Lord'. This phrase which was a commonly used reference to the number of years that had succeeded since the death of Jesus Christ per the Gregorian Calendar is still utilized nearly worldwide today.
Lastly, a thorough review was conducted by Supreme Court Justice Brewer in the late 19th century and in the Supreme Court decision Church of the Holy Trinity vs. United States in 1892, he made this analysis:
"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." 143 U.S. 457 (1892)
in cases like Holy Trinity vs. the United States studied the Founding Fathers and explained of a complete separation
Q: Weren't Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and a number of the other Founders just Deists and not Christians?
A: Much has been written and studied about the personal faith of each of the Founding Fathers. Their outward expressions by word and deed are our best indicators of their individual faith. The most 'progressive' and 'counter-cultural' of the Founders -- Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin -- did have unorthodox views of Christianity, but neither denied it as their belief system when asked. As of yet, there has not been a compelling case made that either or both denounced the major tenets of Christianity and instead identified themselves as 'Deists' in writing or in a speech, which even historians have admitted. Plus, both certainly exhibited one of the most non-deistic tendencies in their belief that God intervened in the affairs of men. In fact, much in the public record can help to clear up any confusion about how deep their individual faiths were integral to their efforts to advance the public liberty and our republican form of government.
In the case of Thomas Jefferson, he wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush on April 12, 1803 stating:
"To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other."
Jefferson had some questions and concerns about the supernatural implications of miracles performed by Jesus as well as what he identified were corrupting influences in early Christianity. These along with his interest in creating a separate book highlighting the 'Life and Morals of Jesus Christ' did make him unorthodox in his philosophy, but in neither word nor deed did he distance himself from Christianity. He referred to his appreciation of a 'simplified Christian philosophy' that was 'the most sublime and benevolent.' Probably the best encapsulation of his intent with the work was in a letter to John Davis on January 18, 1824:
"I ... always rejoice in efforts to restore us to primitive Christianity, in all the simplicity in which it came from the lips of Jesus."
In his first inaugural address as the new President, Jefferson said the he hoped the nation, with enough room for many generations of descendants, would be:
"...enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter ... And may that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity."
Benjamin Franklin was even more willing to advocate Christianity publicly in the fact that he was the one who recommended prayer at the Constitutional Convention before every session, saying on June 28, 1787:
"In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. ”Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments be Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.
I therefore beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of the City be requested to officiate in that service."
Franklin routinely told his pupils in Paris:
"He who shall carry into politics the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world."