Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

My View: America not founded on Christianity

published by the Indianapolis Star on August 16th, 2012

By Donald E. Knebel

Even though I have attended church nearly my entire life, I am taken aback when I see and hear people claim that the United States was founded as a Christian country. I can only imagine the reaction of those of other faith traditions, who must see these claims telling them that they are not really Americans.

In light of the recent attacks on Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin, apparently because of their non-Christian religious beliefs, it is important to examine carefully the claim that the United States was founded as a Christian country.

Some of our Founding Fathers were undoubtedly Christians, but many were not. A large number, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, were deists, who believed that an impersonal God had created the universe and its natural and moral laws and then got out of the way. Deists rejected, as do Muslims and Jews today, the Christian conviction that God came into the world in the form of a human being.

Thomas Jefferson believed that Jesus had been a great moral teacher, but rejected his divinity and created an abbreviated version of the New Testament that left out all the miracles.

Thomas Paine, the author of “Common Sense,” ridiculed Christians, saying they taught “that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married; and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.”

The Declaration of Independence uses “Nature,” “Nature’s God, “Creator,” “Supreme Judge” and “Divine Providence” when referring to a higher power, terms compatible with the teachings of many of the world’s religions and traditions. It has no language suggesting uniquely Christian beliefs and even omits the phrase “in the year of our Lord” from its date. That customary phrase is in the Constitution, the only hint of religious belief in a document providing that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

The Founding Fathers intentionally used inclusive language of the divine and rejected religious tests because they knew what can happen when one group uses government power to advance its religious views. The Puritan government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had hanged Mary Dyer and other Quakers because their beliefs conflicted with Calvinist orthodoxy. The Maryland Colony had provided for the execution of people who denied the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Trinity.

As our Founding Fathers recognized, a real American is not defined by religious beliefs. A real American believes, regardless of his or her own faith tradition, in the ideal of religious pluralism and freedom upon which our country was founded and which continues to draw to our shores people with many religious beliefs and practices. It is that ideal that we as Americans have in common, whether we were born Methodist in rural Indiana or into any other tradition in any other part of the world. Those who attack that ideal are attacking the very essence of what holds us together and makes us great.


[learn_more caption=”About Don Knebel”] [author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]

In addition to being CIC Board Chair, Don Knebel is a partner at Barnes & Thornburg. He has been identified by Chambers USA America’s Leading Lawyers for Business publication as “the best in Indiana for patent litigation” and has been identified as one of the most recommended lawyers in the world in the field of patent law.

Don also serves as adjunct professor and senior advisor to the Center for Intellectual Property Research at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. He received a B.S.E.E. with highest distinction from Purdue University in 1968 and received his J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1974 and joined Barnes & Thornburg.

In addition to his professional success, he has served numerous community organizations. His philanthropic activities are many and include continued service with Booth Tarkington Civic Theater where he has twice been the Board Chair and United Way of Central Indiana. In 2011, Don volunteered as Chair of the annual campaign for United Way and he established an innovative partnership with the Indianapolis Colts. Ellen Annala, president and CEO, credited Don for “pushing us all to think big about what we could achieve together, and bringing about heroic results.”

Don has a genuine passion for learning and a particular interest in comparative religion. This avocation has led him and his wife Jen, a certified lay minister in the Presbyterian Church, on many trips abroad for field research, including trips to Israel, India, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Dubai, and Rome. He has conducted 32 presentations about his research on religion and society.[/author_info] [/author] [/learn_more]

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