Recently I saw an interview with a very prominent clergyman. He was recounting his refusal to take part in a prayer service shortly after 9/11. He had been asked not to make reference to Christianity as the one true religion, and this he would not do.
The Founding Fathers, it seems, made an oversight in not making Christianity the American Religion, either de facto or officially.
The United States was founded by Christians. It gained independence under the guidance of Christians. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written to provide a framework in which the citizens' God-given rights would be preserved.
And the Union was preserved under Christian leadership. (OK, the South did feel that God was on their side, too.)
But the United States is not, and was never intended to be a Christian nation. The First Amendment to the Constitution specifically says that no religion will be 'respected'; that is, given preferential treatment. And it goes further, to say that the free exercise of religion won't be infringed.
What this means to us, practically, is pretty clear - we won't have an official state religion, and, contrary to what certain preachers would like to believe, there's no legal way to turn the United States into a theocracy without some radical legal surgery.
It also means that the Ten Commandments have no place in our courthouses, and organized prayer, led by teachers or administrators, has no place in our public schools.
I'm tempted to wish it were otherwise, except that I know that I'm viewing the situation from a point of bias. I'm a Christian, and it would make me feel good to see the trappings of my religion honored in the public institutions my tax dollars support.
But if I shift perspective, say to Iran, comfort flees. Iran was something close to a theocracy under Ayatollah Khomeini, and the existence of a state religion made things distinctly uncomfortable for non-Muslims. In the years since the 1979 Khomeini revolution, Iran has varied from horrible to juts merely awful.
We're Christians, we say. We wouldn't be like that. I'd like to think so, but the Founding Fathers apparently didn't agree. They knew that their tenure in this life would be limited, so they left us with a set of guiding principles that are specific enough to prevent too much misinterpretation, but broad enough to grow with the nation's physical borders, population, and even technology.
What "freedom of religion" should mean to us is that we're expected to worship as we see fit, and we're to help others use their God-given right to worship as they see fit.
The Founding Fathers were smart men. They invented a country whose record of basic decency has never been matched, let alone surpassed, in the history of the world.
Until we can make a case for being smarter, it might be best to run the country according to the instructions.