Did you know that in 1892 in the case, Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, the Supreme Court affirmed that yes, indeed, the United States is a Christian nation. The Circuit Court in New York had decided that the church’s hiring of a rector from England was illegal under the law forbidding corporations to import foreigners as a source of cheap labor. It’s a long, but interesting decision, especially in light of some of the issues we face today.
The opinion of the court, penned by Mr. Justice Brewer, concluded that applying that law to a situation involving a church rector violated the spirit of the law. In so doing, he wrote “we are a Christian nation”. The decision cited many supporting precedents, including the following:
- Commission to Christopher Columbus from Ferdinand and Isabella
- First colonial grant to Sir Walter Raleigh from Elizabeth
- Charters of Virginia in 1606, 1609 and 1611
- Mayflower Compact
- Fundamental Orders of Connecticut
- Pennsylvania Charter
- Declaration of Independence
- Constitutions of the various states
He concluded with the following:
There is no dissonance in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning. They affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation. These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons. They are organic utterances. They speak the voice of the entire people. While, because of a general recognition of this truth, the question has seldom been presented to the courts, yet we find that in Updegraph v. Commonwealth, 11 S. & R. 394, 400, it was decided that
“Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law of Pennsylvania; . . . not Christianity with an established church and tithes and spiritual courts, but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men.”
It’s important to note the distinction between “Christianity with an established church and tithes and spiritual courts” and “Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men.” True Christianity resides in the heart, not in a set of legalistic rules.No one can force Christianity on another, although many have rejected the faith because of attempts to do so. All, no matter their belief systems, are able to live freely in this nation as long as they abide by the rule of law and do no harm to any other in their religious expression. Those freedoms are available precisely because we are a Christian nation.