By Simon Brown
It is well documented that the Religious Right thinks President Barack Obama either isn’t religious enough or is the “wrong” religion. But it turns out that when it comes to presidents and their personal beliefs, these sentiments are nothing new. As it turns out, Americans have a long history of claiming that the president just isn’t Christian enough for their liking.
In his new book Religion in the Oval Office, author Gary Scott Smith examined the theological background of 11 presidents from John Adams through Obama. Smith, who chairs the history department at Grove City College, concluded that the American public is never satisfied with the president’s level of observance.
Unsurprisingly, Smith found that the chief executive who drew the most suspicion about his faith was Thomas Jefferson – the deist and Founding Father who coined the term “wall of separation” between church and state.
Smith wrote that during the 1800 presidential race, ministers claimed that the future president prayed to the “Goddess of Reason” and sacrificed animals during services held at his home in Virginia. Then-Yale University President Timothy Dwight said if Jefferson were elected, “we may see the Bible cast into a bonfire.” (While Jefferson did make his own version of the Bible in which he removed all of the stories of Jesus’ miracles and references to his divinity, there is no evidence that he ever destroyed any religious books.)
Alexander Hamilton, another Founding Father who was also the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, even went so far as to argue that Jefferson should be barred from running for office because of his supposed atheist beliefs.
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