The United States of America has long been known as a pious country with references to God in phrases such as "In God We Trust" and "One nation under God." Many evangelicals consider these clichés to be affirmations that the United States was founded on Christian ideals. Some historians and scholars also debate that America's Founding Fathers' underlying reason for the First Amendment's notion of separation of church and state was to prevent their new nation from becoming a puppet of a church, as was the case of the Anglican Church in England. What many people do not know is that a great majority of the Founders were not practicing Christians, but followed much more freethinking philosophical schools. Many liberal Enlightenment ideals and free thought were actually the true ideologies of America's Founding Fathers, not Christianity.
At the time of the American Revolution, which happened towards the end of the Enlightenment, many new philosophies questioned or challenged the dogma of the Christian Church. One very common philosophy that many of the Founding Fathers considered themselves subscribers to was Deism. Deism is considered a natural religion that does not altogether deny the existence of God, but argues against divinity and supernaturalism. Deists believe that their belief in God should only be founded in nature and reason. Many of the Founding Fathers including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and James Madison all considered themselves Deists to some degree (Haught, 77-101). Some on the religious right have for years tried to dispel this truth with varying degrees of success.
One Founding Father and primary author of the Constitution, James Madison, was a staunch believer in Enlightenment ideals who considered himself a Unitarian, not a Christian. Unitarian beliefs discredit the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit which are two primary components of the Holy Trinity. Most Christian denominations consider Unitarians as being non-Christian. Madison once commented that "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries" (qtd. in Haught, 98). It is quite clear that Madison wanted nothing to do with religion, more specifically, Christianity, in matters of the state. Those statements also could have been considered heresy at the time.
Many may believe that Madison's stance on separation of church and state was simply a practical idea, not a complete disregard for organized religion. This was because at the time of the American Revolution, institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church and Anglican Church in England held a great deal of political power in the kingdoms and governments of Europe. It is true that Madison argued against the adoption of a state-sponsored church for this reason. Indeed, many of Madison's contemporaries protested that in order to...