To : All Subj: Myth 5 MYTH 5: The Supreme Court has declared that the United States is a

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From: Charles Sumner Posted: 21 Sep 94 09:20 To : All Subj: Myth 5 MYTH 5: The Supreme Court has declared that the United States is a Christian nation. In the Supreme Court's 1892 Holy Trinity Church v. United States decision Justice David Brewer wrote that "this is a Christian nation." Brewer's statement occurred in dicta, a legal term meaning writing that reflects a judge's personal opinion, not an official court pronouncement that sets legally binding precedent. Historians debate what Brewer meant by the statement, some claiming that he only intended to acknowledge that Christianity has always been a dominant force in American life. Research by Americans United shows that five years after the Trinity ruling, Brewer himself seemed to step away from it in a case dealing with legalized prostitution in New Orleans. The New Orleans dispute arose when a Methodist church sought an injunction to bar implementation of a city ordinance allowing prostitution in one zone in the city. The Methodists argued the measure would "destroy the morals, peace and good order of the neighborhood." Citing the Trinity decision, church officials insisted that the ordinance encouraged prostitution, an activity inconsistent with Christianity "which the Supreme Court of the United States says is the foundation of our government and the civilization which it has produced...." Writing for a unanimous court, Brewer completely ignored the church's religious argument and upheld the New Orleans law. Brewer's bypass suggests that he did not mean to assert in the Trinity case that the United States should enforce Christianity through its laws. In any case, the Trinity decision is a legal anomaly that has been cited by the court only once since then. And obviously the opinion of one obscure Supreme Court justice does not amount to an official decree that the United States is a Christian nation. If a Christian republic had been the goal of the framers, that sentiment would have been included in the Constitution. Provided by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, New address: Americans United, 1816 Jefferson Place, Washington, DC 20036-2505; 202-466-3234.


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