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Government and Religion

January 15, 2010 • Volume 20, Issue 2
Was the United States founded as a “Christian nation?”
By Thomas J. Billitteri

Introduction

The Ten Commandments monument on the Texas capitol grounds (Getty Images/Jana Birchum)
The decades-old Ten Commandments monument on the Texas capitol grounds does not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled. But the court held that displays of the Commandments inside two courthouses in Kentucky did violate the First Amendment's prohibition against government establishment of religion. (Getty Images/Jana Birchum)

A decades-long culture war over the relationship between government and religion and the role of faith in civil society shows no sign of abating. New cases are coming before the Supreme Court, and fresh conflicts are arising over the placement of religious displays on public property and the use of government money to support faith-based social-service programs. At the heart of the battle lies the question of whether the United States was formed as a “Christian nation” — as many conservatives contend — or whether the Founding Fathers meant to build a high wall of separation between church and state. President Obama outraged conservatives when he declared, “we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or Muslim nation” but a “nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.” Still, the share of Americans who profess to be Christians has been shrinking, while the percentage who claim no religious preference has nearly doubled since 1990.

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