Monday, November 30, 2009

Treaty of Tripoli: What It Means, What It Doesn't

Recently a reader of this blog commented on a post and made a good point, one that caused me to correct and clarify wording in the post. But then he added an phrase from the Treaty of Tripoli: "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion"

You may notice there is no period at the end of the paragraph above, nor was there one at the end of the quote. To provide context, a more complete quote would have been: "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 [America has] never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan 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."

The Barbary pirates were capturing ships of other nations, supposedly as "payback" for the past transgressions of Christians against Muslims. The intent was to assure them that we were not about to enter into a religious war against them.

As I have stated before on this blog many times, the federal government is prohibited from establishing an official national religion or interfering with freedom of religion via the two religion clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. HOWEVER, at the time the Treaty of Tripoli was ratified, several of our states DID have official state (Christian) religions. But the states were not able to declare war on a Muslim nation; only the federal government could to that, and the federal government is not officially Christian. American citizens are not required to worship any particular religion or any religion at all. Even tough our history has a strong Christian component, our armies are not sent out to force adherence to Christianity.

The Treaty of Tripoli has been used in many places on the Internet to say that we have no Christian roots and that our founders did not think of us as Christian. Reading our first official document of governance, the Mayflower Compact, or many of the colonies' charters, one can not conclude that our nation has no Christian roots.

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