During yesterday’s episode of The 700 Club, a viewer asked Pat Robertson about the Treaty of Tripoli. That’s the 1797 document signed by President John Adams (with the full support of the U.S. Senate) which said the U.S. government was “not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
The viewer said she was watching a TV game show — it’s a recent episode of Jeopardy — and there was a question about what the treaty said: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on this religion.”
Said the lady: “The answer was ‘Christianity.’ This flies in my face about everything I have been taught and believe. Can you explain this?” (She’s becoming self-aware! She just realized people like pseudo-historian David Barton are lying to her! Pat, help her remain deluded!)
Robertson’s response was exactly what you’d expect. He said “LOOK OVER THERE!” while totally avoiding the question.
If you look at the constitution of every one of our 50 states, there’s not one that doesn’t mention a Supreme Being. Every single constitution of every single state.
And the Declaration of Independence says that our liberty is given to us by God…. I remember Zorach v. Clauson, there’s one case where Justice Powell said, “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose the existence of a Supreme Being.” I think, without question, the Supreme Court did rule in the… Trustees case that we are a Christian nation.
We wee being attacked by those pirates out of Tripoli, and we sent marines over there — you know, from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli — they went over there and beat up on those guys to keep those Barbary pirates from attacking our ships. And whatever treaty was made. I think, without question, the Christian religion has been the foundation of our nation.
That’s a lot of words with very little substance.
Just because the constitutions mention God, as was the custom, doesn’t mean we live (or should live) in a theocracy. A random declaration from a Supreme Court justice isn’t law. And the very end of Robertson’s response is just him saying the treaty was made… and who cares because it doesn’t align with his revisionist history.
For the record, I asked Andrew Seidel, a constitutional attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation and author of The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American, what he made of Robertson’s response.
He gave a far better answer.
America was not founded on the Christian religion. Robertson ignores the fact that gods were deliberately omitted from the United States Constitution and falls back on Christian nationalist talking points, which some staffer clearly looked up for him before this question was asked on air.
Robertson claims the Declaration of Independence says “our liberties are given [to] us by God.” It does not.
I’ve got two chapters [in] The Founding Myth about the Declaration and I could get into the finer points about natural law to show how wrong Robertson is, but our side needs to focus on the larger points. That’s why I’m not a fan of citing the Treaty of Tripoli, however clear and concise it is. Christian Nationalists just turn around and do what Robertson does here, pivot to cherry-picked historical talking points.
We need to make bigger arguments, better arguments. When Robertson pivots to the Declaration of Independence, we point out that it is an anti-biblical document.
When Robertson claims Christianity is the foundation of this nation, we demand he explain which Christian principles influenced our founding. He cannot do this.
He can’t do it because Christian principles — especially those in the bible — are fundamentally opposed to the principles on which this nation was built.
No Christian principles positively influenced the founding of the United States.
One thing is obvious: Seidel would kick Robertson’s ass on Jeopardy