The debate was between Bruce Prescott, Baptist pastor and president of the Norman chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Steve Kern, Baptist pastor and husband to state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, who was in the audience.
The two debated whether the U.S. Constitution establishes or advocates for a Christian nation. The debate format allowed each speaker to make his case, ask each other questions and take questions from the audience.
“This is a terrific opportunity for the public to hear two sides to an often misrepresented issue,” said Nick Singer, vice president of the Oklahoma chapter of Americans United. “Many national figures have made claims about our being a Christian nation, and this is a great time and place to settle that debate.”
Hundreds turned out to the event, held Feb. 24 at Oklahoma City Community College, and even after extra chairs were brought in, many remained standing.
At the beginning, moderators informally polled the audience, which was divided evenly on the issue.
While the framers and a majority of people in the colonies at the time were Christians, Prescott said, the Constitution was not inherently religious and did not establish a Christian nation.
“We are not debating about the history of personal faith in America; we are debating about the meaning of our Constitution,” Prescott said. “The Constitution of the United States makes no reference to Christianity or any other faith. There is nothing neither explicitly nor implicitly in the Constitution to suggest that our government has a religious foundation.”
Kern agreed that the men who wrote the Constitution were mostly Christian, but that they wrote the document with the belief that the laws and freedoms set forth derived directly from God, and thus the Constitution did establish a Christian nation.
“The Constitution is a Christian document established by Christians to preserve the Christian social order already established in the colonies,” Kern said, citing several documents and writings from that time period.
Kern asked Prescott why the Constitution requires one to take an oath prior to taking office, to which Prescott said the Constitution also allows for an affirmation.
“If you’re a Christian, you make the oath to God. If you’re a believer, you make the oath to God. But if you were not a Christian and didn’t believe in God, you could make the oath to your own humanity if you wanted,” Prescott said to chuckles from the audience.
Later, Kern received an audience question about why “E pluribus unum” is on the currency.
“Because people wanted to impress you with the idea they knew how to speak Latin,” Kern said to laughter from audience. Asked if he knew what “E pluribus unum” meant, Kern said he did not. After being told it meant “from many, one,” Kern answered that it was the idea behind federalism: The 13 colonies united to form one nation.
Prescott argued the U.S. was unique precisely because it was not founded on religion, unlike previous governments.
“They (the Founding Fathers) were declaring that in America, the government was based upon the consent of the governed,” Prescott said. “In doing so, the Founding Fathers themselves were accused of being atheists and anarchists. They were establishing the first secular government in the history of the world.”
Kern argued the country’s shift away from its religious roots has been the cause of many social ills and a decline in morality.
“You can take the government out of the church, but you cannot take the church out of government. Why? The church is people — people of faith — with a worldview, with convictions, with conscience, with values. People make up the government. The way to get the church out of the government is to get the church out of the people,” Kern said. “Jesus is the only hope for your soul. Jesus is the only hope for this nation’s soul. Our Founding Fathers knew this, and so they established a constitutional government based on absolute principles rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ.”
The audience was polled as to whether anyone’s mind had been changed, and only one person raised his hand.
Mike Fuller, president of the state chapter of Americans United, said the group plans to hold more debates in the future.