For the years in the 1990s that I edited Liberty, I got quite an education regarding America and American history. And one thing I learned, early on, was just how secular, even godless, the United States Constitution is.
No matter how Christian the background to America had been, in that the founders and settlers came from a Christian environment (though with various levels religious commitment), they ended up creating a decidedly non-Christian constitution. The famous words written by Thomas Jefferson—”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—came from the Declaration of Independence, not the U. S. Constitution. And, believe me, Jefferson’s Creator was nothing like the Yahweh of the Bible.
In contrast, the founding legal document of the United States of America never mentions God, Jesus, or the Bible, a fact that greatly antagonized people over the centuries, and that caused them to advocate for amendments that would, they believe, remedy this great defect. So far, all attempts to have the United States Constitution acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ have failed.
The U.S. Constitution does not mention Jesus or God.
Though the U.S. Constitution does not mention Jesus or God, it does mention religion. Each time it does, however, the document restricts what the Federal government can do with it. Article VI, Clause 3, known as the No Religious Test Clause of the United States Constitution, reads, well, “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” In other words, your religion, or lack therefore, cannot disqualify you from public office.
The one constitutional amendment that does deal with religion is the First, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Exactly what this means has been at the heart of more than two centuries of jurisprudence.
There is, however, a serious exception, where the U.S. Constitution does acknowledge Christianity—and Seventh-day Adventists will especially take note of this. Article I, Section 7, says that after a bill is sent from Congress to the president, he has 10 days to return it. “If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law.”
This was late-eighteenth-century America; Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” was serious stuff, often strictly enforced by local and state laws. The idea of the “secular Sunday” didn’t arise in America for another 100 years.
This implicit recognition of Sunday as sacred, in something as secular as the United States Constitution, shows ironically enough why it was a great idea to keep the government and religion as far apart as possible. And that’s because the one time in the document that it even implicitly seeks to apply religious doctrine to the nation—it gets it wrong.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book is Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity