This is a guest post by Andrew Seidel. He is an attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation and his first book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American will be released in May.
Christian nationalists are always looking for ways to use our public schools to promote their warped, revisionist version of U.S. history. Myths like Christianity and the Bible playing a central role at the Constitutional Convention (nope, and it didn’t include a formal prayer either), like George Washington praying in the snow at Valley Forge (he didn’t), or the Ten Commandments forming the basis of our laws (not even close).
Oklahoma State Senator David Bullard (below) is wading into those dissembling waters with a new bill, SB 572, which encourages history teachers to “discuss the role of religion, including but not limited to Christianity and the Bible, while discussing the foundational documents and principles of the United States.” Bullard especially wants direct quotes from the founding fathers, including “Noah Webster, Joseph Story and John Adams.”
We all know where this is going.
Bullard is seeking to use the machinery of the state to promote Christian nationalism and its bad history. He wants public school history classes in Oklahoma to be live versions of Hobby Lobby’s wildly misleading July 4 ads.
The bill is flawed from the start, if only because it fails to understand that most scholars do not consider Webster and Story to be “Founding Fathers” — they weren’t part of the Continental Congresses or Constitutional Convention, and Webster never held a national office. Story was born three years after the colonies declared independence and was only ten years old when the Constitution was written.
Story did go on to become a Supreme Court justice and no doubt Bullard wants teachers to repeat this Story quote: “I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society.” That line comes from a private letter, but in his public writings — the first definitive legal commentaries on the Constitution — Story explained that the U.S. Constitution “cut off for ever every pretence of any alliance between church and state in the national government.” Does Bullard want that taught, too?
Back when Bullard was just a history teacher running for office, one puff piece said Bullard “has spent many years studying the Christian and Constitutional heritage of our country and researching the words of the founding generation on that subject.”
“Studied” must be a euphemism because any fair, unbiased, or scholarly survey of America’s founding makes it clear that religion played little role. (I’m actually surprised the Freedom From Religion Foundation, where I work as an attorney, never got a complaint about Bullard.) The Ten Commandments, the Bible, and Judeo-Christian principles did not positively influence America’s founding, our government, or our Constitution.
Instead, the founders chose to keep state and church separate. The “wall of separation” between state and church is an American original. The idea was floating around in the Enlightenment, but it was first implemented in the American Experiment. It’s right there in the first words of our Constitution: “We the people.” Those words are poetic, but also declare that power comes from people, not gods. That was revolutionary. America invented the separation of state and church, and we ought to be proud of that fact.
American pride should demand the death of SB 572.
We don’t need Christian nationalist lies and myths muddying up our nation’s history or our civic pride. The truth is more than enough.
(Screenshot via YouTube)