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U.S. was born a Christian nation

By Robert Knight, Special to CNN
  • Robert Knight disputes ideas in opinion piece by Will Bunch about Glenn Beck, David Barton
  • Bunch rejected idea of U.S.' Christian roots, but there's evidence for it, Knight says
  • Moses shown on some Supreme Court friezes; some founders wrote of Christian principles
  • Knight: U.S. unique in advancing individual rights because of its Christian ethic

Editor's note: Robert Knight is a senior writer for the evangelical Coral Ridge Ministries and a senior fellow for the conservative American Civil Rights Union. He helped draft the "Defense of Marriage Act," the 1996 law in which the federal government defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman, and is the author of "Fighting for America's Soul: How Sweeping Change Threatens Our Nation and What We Must Do."

(CNN) -- Will Bunch's tirade earlier this week against television host Glenn Beck and David Barton -- the founder and president of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization that emphasizes history's "moral, religious and constitutional heritage" -- for allegedly creating "pseudo history" reveals more about Mr. Bunch than it does about what Mr. Beck and Mr. Barton are presenting.

Mr. Bunch seems, above all, to be annoyed that many people are no longer staying on the liberal plantation of secularized American history. He offers little in the way of examples of error, just differences of opinion, such as his own assertion about "the much-debunked idea that America's creation was rooted in Christianity."

Much debunked? That would have been news to many of the Founding Fathers, whose biblical understanding of man as created in the image of God informed their insistence in the Declaration of Independence that people have "unalienable rights" to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This was tempered by the biblically informed idea that man is prone to sin. In the Federalist Papers, No. 51, for example, James Madison wrote, "But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary."

Therefore, any government formed by men needs checks and balances to avoid tyranny. On a more elementary level, the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution were mostly Christian. You can look it up.

Bunch complains that, "In April, Barton told Beck's 3 million TV viewers that 'we use the Ten Commandments as basis of civil law and the Western world [and it] has been for 2,000 years.' "

Glenn Beck rewrites civil rights history

Perhaps this is why the Ten Commandments numerals are represented at the bottom of a door to the U.S. Supreme Court courtroom and why Moses, revered as the lawgiver to Jews in the Hebrew bible, and Christians in the New Testament, appears holding two tablets elsewhere in the Supreme Court building.

He appears between the Chinese philosopher Confucius and Solon, the Athenian statesman -- at the center of a frieze of historic lawgivers on the building's East Pediment. Moses is also among an array of lawgiver figures depicted over the Court's chamber.

Tellingly, Mr. Bunch does not dispute the accuracy of the quotes that Mr. Barton cites that spell out a Christian understanding of law and man among some of the Founding Fathers.

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, written 37 years after the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote: "The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young gentlemen could Unite. ... And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United: ... Now I will avow, that I then believe, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System."

John Jay, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, wrote in a letter to a friend, "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."

Mr. Bunch further complains that Barton "gives less than short shrift to the real achievement of the Founders in separating church and state."

I would argue that their real achievement was elsewhere. Their real achievement was far larger: creation of a unique, limited government with protections for the freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly and protection of property rights, without which no freedom exists. The result was the most prosperous and freest nation in history.

And property rights are endorsed throughout the Bible.

The "wall of separation between church & state," by the way, is not in the Constitution. It's from a letter from President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptists, who were concerned that the national government would favor one Christian denomination over others. But Mr. Jefferson's phrase has become a sacred totem used by activist judges to drive Christian symbols from the public square.

The real reason that Mr. Bunch is so exercised is that the truth about America's Christian founding is getting out, despite media hostility, politically correct schoolbooks and rising intolerance toward any public expression of faith -- unless it advances leftist goals.

America is a unique beacon of freedom precisely because of its founders' Christian perspective, which has protected the right of conscience and thus freedom of religion for Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and nonbelievers. Try to identify another nation on Earth that similarly advanced individual rights without being influenced by Christianity.

Beck and Barton are striking what Abraham Lincoln described in a different context as the "mystic chords of memory." It makes perfect sense that many Americans are tuning in.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert Knight.