William Martin has written a series of short articles for Opposing Views countering claims that America is a Christian nation.
In his article on Jefferson and Madison, Martin recounts the story of Jefferson’s Bill to Establish Religious Freedom. Jefferson argued, among other things, that people should not be forced to support religion and there should be no religious test for public office. Jeffersons’ bill failed in Virginia in 1779, Martin notes, but passed in 1786.
And here’s what Martin has to say about Madison:
Madison was not concerned solely with oppression. Government support of religion, he insisted, would lead inevitably to the corruption and weakening of religion itself. Fifteen centuries of governmental entanglement with Christianity had made clear that neither institution benefited from the relationship. He noted that ecclesiastical establishments “have [in some instances] been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people…. A just government… will be best supported by… neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.”
If the claim that America is a Christian nation reduces to the claim that most Americans have adhered to the Christian religion, then the claim is trivial. If the claim is that America was founded to promote Christianity, then the claim is false.