One item of evidence used to support the separation of church and state is the text of a treaty signed in 1796 that states “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion…”. The Wall Street Journal, in a blog post on Thursday tried to spin that fact to cheerlead for Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who got the concept of the separation of church and state wrong in a recent debate. Too bad the WSJ spin doesn’t work.
The text of the treaty in question is:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
Treaty of Peace and Friendship, Signed at Tripoli November 4, 1796
The Journal writes:
The language isn’t in either the original, Arabic-language version of the treaty or the contemporaneous, Italian-language translation. It only appears in the English-language translation made by U.S. consul-general Joel Barlow, a translation so shoddy fellow diplomats at the time described it as “extremely erroneous.”
But then they undercut their spin with:
Nevertheless, that English-language version, complete with the mysterious Article XI, is what the Senate ratified and what President Adams publicly cheered: “And I do hereby enjoin and require all persons bearing office civil or military within the United States, and all others citizens or inhabitants thereof, faithfully to observe and fulfill the said Treaty and every clause and article thereof.”
Obscure Treaty Is Cited in Church-State Separation Debate
There has been a long running campaign by those on the religious right to rewrite history and prescribe values to the founders that just didn’t exist in their time – like the founders didn’t want a separation of church and state.
The paragraph noted above is true, even if the text in Article 11 was added by Joel Barlow, the Senate ratified the treaty unanimously on June 10, 1797 and no one, not even the public, complained about the text.
Why? Because they believed in the words in that treaty and had no problem signing it and ratifying it. They agreed with the text and it became the law of the land.
The Wall Street Journal blog post doesn’t change the facts or change that United States said in public it “is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”