In a letter of Oct. 8, the letter writer uses the familiar Tea Party tripe about the United States' founding as a "Christian nation" as the launching for his bizarre rant. For as much as they profess to revere the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, Tea Partiers seem to understand neither. More on that in a moment.
Part of the problem is a misuse of the word "nation." Too many Americans conflate "nation" with "state," despite the fact that the two words have different meanings. A "state" is a political entity, while a "nation" is more of an ethnic or tribal one. This is the origin of the phrase "nation-state." While I know the Tea Party loathe anything European, the concept is best illustrated by examining European history and the birth of countries like Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria from the ashes of three empires.
Under this definition, one might be tempted to stipulate that the U.S. began as a Christian "nation." However, the truth is that the Founding Fathers were collectively ambivalent about religion generally and Christianity specifically. Some were mainline Christians, some were Unitarians, and some were Deists.
In The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine wrote, "Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity."
In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin wrote of having received several anti-Deist books that had the opposite effect of convincing him of the Deism's validity.
Certainly, though, much of the populace was Christian. Even still, they belonged to a variety of denominations. It may also be worth noting that the largest non-Christian inhabitants of the early United States, African slaves (who followed Islam and animistic religions prior to conversion) and Native Americans (who followed indigenous animistic religions), were explicitly excluded from society.
Nonetheless, it is clear that the United States is not, nor has it ever been, a Christian "state."
Article XI of the Treaty of Tripoli, unanimously ratified by the Senate and signed and promulgated by President John Adams, states, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion..."
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that elected officials "shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
Finally, Amendment I of the U.S. Constitution states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."
The letter writer may wish to read that twice, and he should have a dictionary handy so that he can look up the word "establishment."