For Europeans and Americans, "Symbolic" God-Language Matters

June 27, 2004

Source: First Amendment Center

On June 27, 2004 the First Amendment Center posted a commentary by Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, comparing the issues raised by the U.S. case over whether to remove "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance and the decision not to include any references to God, Christianity, or "Christian heritage" in the European Union constitution. Haynes writes, "Despite the emotion roused by the pledge debate, the vast majority of Americans don’t seek to define our country as an officially 'Christian America.' The absence of any reference to God or Christianity in the U.S. Constitution was (and still is) a stunning rejection of the European model of church-state entanglement � a vision of 'Christendom' at the root of holy wars for centuries. For Europeans, however, the question of identity is still hotly disputed. If member states ratify this 'Godless Constitution,' Europe will follow America in breaking with the precedents of history to form a union with no established church or preferred faith. Just as the U.S. decision for 'no establishment' on the federal level in 1791 left open the possibility of state establishments of religion, so too the European constitution in 2004 leaves in place established churches in some member nations. But the principles of religious liberty found in the U.S. Constitution (no religious test for office, no state religion, full freedom of religion for all) eventually prevailed in every state. That’s likely to happen throughout Europe as well."