Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding
Steven K. Green
In March 2010, the Texas Board of Education found itself embroiled in a national controversy when it debated, and ultimately approved, a textbook that put a social-conservative spin on American history. (The national scope of the controversy was justified because Texas is one of the country’s largest purchasers of textbooks; what is held true in Dallas therefore is made truth a lot of other places.) Among the distinctive features of the new textbooks was the removal of Thomas Jefferson from a list of thinkers who inspired eighteenth- and nineteenth-century revolutions. He was replaced by Moses, Thomas Aquinas, and John Calvin.
This decision makes more sense in the broader context of American social conservatism, a branch of which has focused for several decades on proving that the Founding Fathers were devoted to orthodox Christianity, or at least not as committed to secular government as the liberal consensus would have it. Jefferson—as a demonstrably unorthodox religious thinker who literally cut the miracles out of his copy of the New Testament—does not fit into this narrative. And since he coined the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state,” the proponents of the new curriculum thought it wiser to downplay his undeniable influence on republican politics.