Now, if our laws are based on the Ten Commandments, then it seems we should pay attention to the first of these commandments, the one that states “I am the Lord your God... you shall have no other gods before me” – which of course would make anything other than Judeo-Christian views illegal. It made no sense, then, when O'Reilly asked “What do you say to the people... who come from a different religious culture?” for Palin to answer, "We get to say to them, 'Yay, welcome to America, where we are tolerant and you have a freedom to express whatever faith... that's what America is all about'." Yes, that is one of the things America is all about, but it most definitely is not what the Ten Commandments is all about.
As everyone ought to know, our government was in fact explicitly based on non-religious principles. John Adams wrote that none of the architects of American government “were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven” and thought that governments should be “founded on the natural authority of the people alone,” while the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by Adams and unanimously ratified by the Senate, states that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
Our government's non-religious basis used to be recognized by those who opposed a secular constitution. Early opponents of that document often complained about its godlessness. One New Hampshire delegate warned that to ratify the Constitution would mean to create a godless America, and even worried that with it, “congress might deprive the people of the use of the holy scriptures.” Another critic warned that because of God's absence from the law of the land, America would face the fate that Samuel prophesied to Saul: “because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee.”
This recognition of the Constitution's godlessness persisted among the religious right for quite some time. In 1811, Reverend Samuel Austin – who would later become president of the University of Vermont – wrote that the document's “one capital defect” is that it is “entirely disconnected from Christianity.” In 1820, the chaplain of the New York state legislature scolded the founders for their “ingratitude” – which he regarded as “perhaps without parallel” – in omitting even “the slightest hint of homage to the God of Heaven.” And by the 1860's, many regarded the Civil War as divine retribution for the belief that government shouldn't be divinely ordained. There was even an attempt at the time to amend the Constitution so as to make it into a Christian document. The (very scary) proposed change to the preamble read:
“We, the people of the United Sates, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, The Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among the Nations, and His revealed will as of supreme authority, in order to constitute a Christian government... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
It was only in relatively recent times that the religious right changed its tune and began claiming that the Constitution was never godless after all. That way, rather than attempting to change it, they can instead convince the ignorant to misunderstand it.
In the O'Reilly interview, Palin complained that those who disagree with her are attempting to rewrite history. The irony, of course, is that it is people like Palin who are doing just that.
Main source for the above information: The Godless Constitution, by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore.
Palin's interview with O'Reilly can be found at: