America was founded on Christian values, just not the ones you think.

Justice Samuel Alito recently alluded to the fact that he believed America should be rooted in Christian values. A Pew Research poll in 2022 found that 45% of Americans thought that America should be a Christian nation, but only one third believed that churches should be involved in politics. And a full 60% of Americans believe that the founders intended for America to be a Christian nation and as far as I can tell every single Republican repeats that same notion as often as they possibly can. Wow, are we confused or what?

Obviously the American constitution specifically calls for a separation of church and state. And I will give regular citizens the benefit of the doubt that when they say America should be rooted in Christian values that they mean something akin to love thy neighbor. Well probably not, they probably mean don’t say gay, but let’s just say so for now, you know, to be nice. But Alito? And all of these Republicans? They know better and I would like to know what they really mean by Christian values. While I’ll forgive most Americans for not knowing their own history it’s much harder to give the same forgiveness to someone like Justice Alito or Senator Mike Lee.

So, to be clear, saying that America was founded on Christian values is not exactly wrong. But which values are we talking about? Love thy neighbor? What you do unto the least of us you do unto me? Turn the other cheek? That stuff is all good. But those weren’t the Christian values that America was founded on. Sorry, I know, history is a bummer. And Alito knows this, Tom Cotton knows this, Josh Hawley knows this, so what are they talking about?

The reality is that all of the Americas were conquered under the “legal” cover of the Doctrine of Discovery. It was codified in Papal Bulls by the Catholic Church which basically gave Europeans the right to take land from non-Christians and disregard their human rights. Or even their right to live at all for that matter. It was the legal theory behind the genocides that took place on the American continents during the 16,17,18,19 and 20th centuries. And yes, it was based on Christian values. Not the kind we usually think of today, but still it was the Christian doctrine that sanctioned the taking of the Americas at the time.

Thomas Jefferson cited the Doctrine of Discovery as settled international law when he was secretary of state. In 1823, based on the established policy of the Doctrine of Discovery, Chief Justice John Marshall decided that the United States had the right to “inherit” the lands that were “discovered” by Britain and therefore now had title to the land taken. It was further codified into law in multiple court cases throughout the 1800’s. 

And of course, this notion most famously morphed into America’s divine right to conquer the land from sea to shining sea in the name of spreading morality and christianity to North America, and its inhabitants, by force or by any means necessary. We called this Manifest Destiny at the time, today we would legally define much of what was done as genocide.

This notion of Christianizing the native population carried over well into the 20th century not only in broken treaties and land grabs but also in the form of boarding schools, sponsored by the U.S. government but run by various Christian denominations. Today we would call what went on in many of these schools as akin to re-education camps where state sanctioned Christian values were instilled in order to “civilize” the indians. Kill the indian, Save the man, was one of the common mantras associated with these schools. In 2022 a department of the interior report said that it estimated that thousands of native children died at these schools as a result of the assimilation policies that spanned over 150 years. The amount of abuse is impossible to fully calculate.

So yes, in certain ways America was founded by supposed Christian values. Just not the Christian values that I would hope most people today would accept. I would also hope that most Americans saying they want to return to Christian values don’t mean a return to those kinds of really horrific deeds that were done in the name of Christ. I’m assuming that they probably don’t understand the full history, because here in America, we tend to forget that kind of history. Or never let it be fully understood in the first place. At least for a certain segment of the population anyway. Ok, I’ll come out and say it, if you’re raised white in America you’re usually the last group to find out about this stuff. Sorry, to break it to you, I was raised white, even though my Italian ancestors wouldn’t have been considered so in America just a hundred years ago. I had to figure it out, so if you’re considered white you can too. It’s very doable and I believe in you!

OK, anyway, but a Supreme Court Justice? Elected Republican officials? They know better. Don’t they? Or shouldn’t they anyway? So once again, what are they really talking about when they say they want a return to Christian values? Some people would say they are just trying to rile up homophobia, or anti-abortion sentiment, race issues, or anything else that helps them garner votes to stay in power. But I would say it’s just more of the same mindset of control and conquest, just as it’s been since the Doctrine of Discovery was first established.