On April 6, 2009, President Obama, speaking halfway across the world in Turkey, effectively made a shocking proclamation: that the United States did not consider itself a Judeo-Christian nation.
"Although, as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation," he said. I do not challenge his right to make that statement, nor do I doubt that he believes it to be true. But there were two critical questions that he failed to ask and answer. First, did America ever consider itself a Judeo-Christian nation? Secondly, if it did, what was the moment or event in which it ceased to do so?
Our nation's history provides overwhelming evidence that America was birthed upon Judeo-Christian principles. The first act of America's first Congress in 1774 was to ask a minister to open with prayer and to lead Congress in the reading of four chapters of the Bible. In 1776, in approving the Declaration of Independence, our founders acknowledged that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights..." and noted that they were relying "on the protection of Divine Providence" in the founding of this country. John Quincy Adams said, "The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity." Also, the signers of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, insisted the treaty begin with the phrase, "In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity."
In 1800, Congress approved the use of the Capitol building as a church. Both chambers approved the measure, with president of the Senate, Thomas Jefferson, giving the approval in that chamber. Throughout his terms as both vice president and president, Jefferson attended church at the Capitol, including Jan. 3, 1802, just two days after writing his infamous letter in which he penned the phrase "the wall of separation between church and state." Nearly 100 years later, in 1892, in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, the United States Supreme Court held that America is a "Christian nation."
Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, Hoover, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan all referenced the importance of Judeo-Christian principles in the birth and growth of our country. In fact, President Franklin Roosevelt led our nation in a six-minute prayer before the invasion of Normandy, the greatest military invasion in history where freedom was protected for the world, asking God to preserve our Christian civilization. After that great war, Congress came together and jointly recognized that our strength was not in our weapons, our economic institutions, or the wisdom of our committees—it is in God. Congress therefore adopted "In God We Trust" as our national motto and it was engraved in the wall in front of which the speaker of the House of Representatives stands.
So, if America was birthed upon Judeo-Christian principles, at what point in time did our nation cease to be Judeo-Christian? It was not when a small minority tried to remove the name of God from our public buildings and monuments. It was not when they tried to remove God from our veterans' flag folding ceremonies or take the motto off of our coins. Nor was it when this small minority fought to banish prayer from our schools, strip the 10 Commandments from our courtrooms, or remove the phrase "one nation under God" from the new Capitol Visitor Center.
No, the answer is clear: While America has always welcomed individuals of diverse faiths and nonfaith, we have never ceased to be a Judeo-Christian nation. That small minority could tear references of faith off of every building and document across our nation, but it would not change the fact that we were built on Judeo-Christian principles. Indeed, these beliefs are so interwoven into the tapestry of freedom and liberty upon which our nation is built that to begin to unravel one is to begin to unravel the other.
Rep. Randy Forbes, Republican of Virginia, is the founder and chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus.