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
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
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,
Americans United, 1816 Jefferson Place, Washington, DC 20036-2505;