Christian nation?

Right-wing conservative religious people just looooove talking about how the United States of America is a “Christian nation” founded by our forefathers on Christian values. An atheist group called Backyard Skeptics has taken to billboards to protest this interpretation.

Citing the Treaty of Tripoli from 1796 as evidence that our forefathers did not found the United States on the Christian religion, Backyard Skeptics have posted this billboard in Costa Mesa, California:

Yes, the text reads: “AMERICA IS NOT, IN ANY SENSE, FOUNDED ON THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.” Underneath, the source of the quotation reads: “THE TREATY OF TRIPOLI, 1797. SIGNED UNANIMOUSLY BY CONGRESS”

In case you’re curious, here’s a little background on the Treaty of Tripoli:

The Treaty of Tripoli (Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary) was the first treaty concluded between the United States of America and Tripolitania, signed at Tripoli on November 4, 1796 and at Algiers (for a third-party witness) on January 3, 1797. It was submitted to the Senate by President John Adams, receiving ratification unanimously from the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797 and signed by Adams, taking effect as the law of the land on June 10, 1797.

The treaty was a routine diplomatic agreement but has attracted later attention because the English version included a clause about religion in America.

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

The treaty is cited as historical evidence in the modern day controversy over whether there was religious intent by the founders of the United States government. Article 11 of the treaty has been interpreted as an official denial of a Christian basis for the U.S. government.

Of course, hard-line Christians aren’t about to accept this without a fight, as there’s a very strong perception among many Christians that this country was founded by them, for them:

A spokesperson for the U.S. Catholic league spokesperson told CP Thursday that the group is historically wrong.

“It is understood that this nation was founded in the late 18th century under the Judeo-Christian ethos,” Jeffrey Field, Catholic League director of communications, told CP. “Indeed in 1892, a century later, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that we are a Christian nation.”

For more on the debate over the Supreme Court decision in question, check out this link supporting the Christian nation interpretation, and this link refuting it.

Granted, it’s not like either side in a dispute of this nature is likely to be swayed by the other’s argument, so I guess Christians and non-believers will just have to agree to disagree.

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