Religion in America today


The First Amendment’s two religion clauses require the government to “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Historically, the Supreme Court has interpreted these clauses by saying, for example, that a government official like a public school teacher may not lead prayer in a classroom, but a student may silently pray in school. While the Constitution does not explicitly set out a theory of the separation between church and state, in 1947 Justice Hugo Black constitutionalized the theory in the landmark case, Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township. Black’s statement is very clear and pointed, and here it is in full.

He ruled that “neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will, or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or nonattendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups, and vice versa. In the words of [Thomas] Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State.’ ”

A few years later, Justice Tom Clark, a devout Presbyterian who served on the Supreme Court from 1949 to 1967, also held strong views concerning people’s relationship with their faith. By his lights, religion was a personal matter. Writing for the Court in Schempp v. Abington School District (1963), he wrote that “the place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church, and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind.” Religion was a private affair between an individual and God, and not one involved in the public sphere.

These views are consonant with those American founders like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton expressed. They were deists; that is, they believed in a God as Creator who left it to human beings to improve his work or destroy it. Most rejected institutional Christianity with churches, priests, and liturgy. Religion was a matter of free will. As Thomas Paine put it in “The Age of Reason” (1794): “I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life … My mind is my own church.”

Contrast these views with those expressed by newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson. In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Johnson said that “‘someone asked me today in the media, they said, ‘People are curious. What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it — that’s my worldview. That’s what I believe, and so I make no apologies for it.’”

As an evangelical Christian, Speaker Johnson has long opposed abortion, and gay and transgender rights. He has advocated the imprisonment of people engaging in abortion, same-sex relations, and attempting transgender surgeries. He has said that homosexual relations will lead to the destruction of “the entire democratic system.” Unlike Justice Clark, he does not privately practice his religious faith, but has striven to design to place his religious beliefs fully in policy and lawmaking. For Johnson, although America was founded as a Christian nation, it has lost that foundation, and must be brought back to service to God.

He believes the Declaration of Independence is an American “creed,” a “religious statement of faith.” For Jefferson, the Declaration was no such thing: It was a political document presenting the reasons for the Americans’ desire to separate from the British Empire, period.

But his remarks echo those spoken by Justice Samuel Alito in a 2020 address to the Federalist Society, a conservative group of lawyers who led the campaign to place three new highly conservative justices on the court, all nominated by former President Trump: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Justice Alito said that “religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.” 

The Supreme Court’s most recent rulings concerning religion reflect his desires. A majority ruled that a Philadelphia Catholic social services organization, on religious grounds, could prohibit same-sex couples from becoming foster parents. They upheld a high school football coach’s desire to pray with his players after games, on the 50-yard line. 

And they even decided a case that was purely speculative, something that the Court has never done before. A web designer who planned in the future to create web pages for weddings pre-emptively sought to exclude same-sex couples on religious grounds. She had never even designed a wedding website, but states on her website that “as a Christian who believes that God gave me the creative gifts that are expressed through this business, I have always strived to honor Him in how I operate it.” She asked the court to allow her to exclude same-sex couples, and six justices agreed, even though her case was hypothetical.

We have come a long way from Thomas Paine and Justices Black and Clark. And if Speaker Johnson has his way, we may well be on the road to becoming a Christian nation, with all other religions, agnostics, and atheists residing here as guests.


Jack Fruchtman, who lives in Aquinnah, has written three books on Thomas Paine and one on Benjamin Franklin.


  1. Wouldn’t agree with you Mr Fruchtman. Secular Humanism in the USA is on no danger from Mike Johnson. It is well embedded in the USA today. He has a right to his world view which informs him and He has an absolute right to attempt legislation from his perspective. The Supreme Court will and may rule for him or against him. Those in the Legislature who support all the things Johnson is against–like Schumer for example also push for laws that support their own world view. Those secularists will not ”reside here as guests” and you know it. Right now on the contrary Jews in America feel like unwanted guests due to the undisciplined ranting or pro Palestinians.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Fruchtman, for a timely and cogent essay. I sense there is a rise of religionism in the world. I believe you are correct, that it was not what the founders intended for this country; rather that humanity’s instinct for for compassion should rule.

    • Please tell me how Mr Johnson’s religious beliefs impede those of others. Is Schumer allowed to be Jewish or Pelosi Catholic or Romney Mormon?

  3. andy– i find it interesting that you have elevated Mr.
    Johnson to the status of capitalizing the pronoun
    “He” when referring to “Him”, I know how important
    the proper use of pronouns is to you and your ilk.
    But may I point out that Jews have always faced
    discrimination in this country. Indeed– it was not
    radical leftists led by the likes of Gretta Thornberg
    that were chanting “jews will not replace us” and
    “blood and soil” In charlottesville in 2017.
    The name of the “rally” was “Unite the right”, after all.
    And really, andy, — you make it sound like no hateful
    “conservatives” ever said anything nasty about Palestinians
    or Muslims.
    I don’t really care about some politicians’ “world view”
    I care about the people. Whether they be Jewish or Palestinian
    Ukrainian or Russian, Houthi or backers of the Hadi regime.
    Cowboys vs Indians — And on and on —
    I wonder of you have ever even glanced at the constitution
    of the United States.
    In case you haven’t, it sets clear guidelines about acceptance
    of all religious beliefs and races.
    And look my plight– Jackie has turned against me
    and thinks I hate Jews because i don’t condone the slaughter of
    thousands of children in Gaza.
    Even though I condemned the oct 7 terrorist attacks on the state
    of Israel.
    I just didn’t call for a genocidal response.
    Imagine– Jackie is on your side.
    You must be delighted about that.

    • Don, I will not allow you to again accuse me or Israel or Jews of wanting a genocide in Gaza.

      Your remarks are increasingly inappropriate. Israel is doing and has been doing everything possible to avoid civilian death and injury, escorting civilians to safer ground, bringing food and water, even bringing in incubators for the helpless babies the cowardly and insane terrorists have put between themselves and the IDF. Hamas wanted this war, did everything possible to exact the harshest response from Israel, and then hid behind their own babies, shooting civilians who tried to evacuate the urban war zone where the terrorists hide in tunnels under schools and hospitals. Some terrorists, none who wear uniforms, even got out when hospitals are evacuated, mixing in with civilians. The insistence that Israel wants a genocide is nothing short of accusing Jews of using Palestinian blood to bake matzahs. Same thing. Same damn ancient blood libel accusations against Jews. Give it a rest. You can’t wrangle your way out of this. Your behavior on here is responsible for your “plight”. You can insist you care about “people” all you want, but your false accusations and lashing out say otherwise. I believe nothing you say. You did this to yourself, not me.

      • What would Keller do if somebody attacked and killed 50,000 civilians(proportionate to USA population) in say, Virginia from an area twice the size of DC(Gaza) And not just killed, but tortured, oven baked and beheaded babies, cut the body parts, raped…? Would he worry about “reputation” or about protecting innocent Washingtonians right to exist? Notwithstanding the daily rocket fires continuing from DC(Gaza). Hopefully he would systematically and very carefully root out the evil with a minimum of damage after letting the so called innocents evacuate first.

      • Jackie — I will never again
        accuse You or Israel or Jews of wanting a
        genocide in Gaza. I never said it a first time,
        and never will because I do not think
        that is what you want, nor do the Israeli
        people ( with a few exceptions).
        However the word has been used quite
        frequently by “experts” in the U.N
        and some media outlets.

        • Don, you seem unaware of the “experts” at the UN and who they consistently condemn and why. Naïveté? Ill-informed? Or a willingness to jump on any antisemitic bandwagon? I can’t educate you. I just can’t. Moving toward, I’ve learned who to believe and who is no friend to me and the people I cherish.

          Yes, there are bad apples on all sides everywhere. Palestinian civilians were part of a 3rd wave of October 7th attacks, paid by Hamas to take back hostages and corpses to Gaza. Some were promised apartments. The cheering and spitting on a girls dead body was done by civilians in Gaza. The hatred of Jews is a religion.

          Diplomacy doesn’t work with people who reject their own free country, repeatedly, when there’s a Jewish one next door. Insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

          Someone else on-island has picked up your cry of GENOCIDE bring committed by Israel, against Gaza. He’s written a ghastly letter to this newspaper to advertise a protest in a call for an immediate ceasefire. He brags about it on his facebook page, quite proud of himself. I am hoping that I am not the only one to respond in a letter explaining why he is promoting false and antisemitic blather. I can hope.

          And I do hope because there exists all over, including right here, clear-eyed logic that is goodness and understanding and intelligence. Katie has explained exactly what the evil is. There’s no debate about it. Except from antisemites.

          I read a definition of antisemitism that I like because it’s true. “Antisemitism is hating Jews… more than you’re allowed.”

    • Keller you must keep your thoughts together. I simply said Johnson has a right to his religion and you are all over the place once again. Houthis and Greta and pronouns and more. Sheeeeeesh Keller get it together.

      • Andy– I agree with you that
        Johnson has a right to his religion.
        I never said otherwise and never will.
        I just don’t think He has the right to impose
        his religious beliefs on the rest of us.

    • Jackie was the first poster I saw wishing for the safety of *every* innocent involved, mere days after Israelis were tortured and murdered. The first poster, if I recall, to say outright that she hopes for a two-state solution someday, a stance that clearly affirms the humanity of both groups.

      Maybe some have forgotten the definition of ‘two’? In direct response to these statements, she was accused of wanting genocide. Of only caring about Jewish babies. Of feeling superior. Today, Don accused her of hating Muslims when *terrorists* are her rightful target. Those categories—those terms—should never be conflated, and she isn’t the one doing the conflating.

      Jackie has no obligation to align with a party chanting for the downfall of the Jewish people. That river ‘n’ sea rhyme? It’s what many usually call a dog whistle. The consequences of embracing it have proven numerous, yet the left only acknowledges the tiki torch variety of this hatred.

      Palestinians deserve better opportunities. Better lives. I’ve been invested in that vision for a long while. But turning on the Jewish community is NOT the way to achieve it. That path will lead straight to ruin.

      We KNOW as much. Blaming Jews for everything is unfair. Cruel. Dangerous. They deserve safety and peace.

      Don, I wrote a thorough reply to your response under a different article. Can’t post it because the comments are closed.

      I will answer here an important question you asked of me:

      “Do you think their [Gazan] parents bear any responsibility for their [children’s] deaths ?”

      No. I think Hamas started a war, is using those same children as shields, and has murdered innocents as they attempt to head south to relative safety.

      I also think Hamas is weaponizing propaganda left and right. That formerly ‘reputable’ news outlets are enabling them, which has created mass confusion and manipulation.

      Evil never sleeps.

      • Thank you, Katie. The confusion arising from all the propaganda seems to be only within that part of the population that can’t quite support Israel 100% in all this. In any of this. This is Jewish history repeating itself. The tragic loss of life in Gaza that no one wanted (except Hamas) was part of the 1-2 years of Hamas planning that went into this. 2 years of meticulous planning but no bomb shelters or evacuation routes for civilians? The response from Israel was anticipated and hoped for. Don never noticed this aspect? Don is all over the place but what is noticeably missing from his narrative, and all those not understanding that Hamas intentionally turned Gaza into an one huge, unwilling, and entirely tragic suicide bomb, is that people all over are no longer supporting or even feeling any compassion for Israelis…. Or any Jews. Jews are seen as Arab haters— which is ironic since there are more Arab Israeli citizens contentedly living in Israel than there are Palestinians living in Gaza. Even dead Jews in cemeteries far away from the Middle East are having their graves attacked. Before a single Israeli drone attacked Gaza, people were worried about Gazans, even on Martha’s Vineyard, exactly as Hamas planned and hoped things would turn out for them. In my view, the world largely turning against Israel has worked out better for Hamas than even they thought possible. As there are more reports from Hamas of Palestinian deaths, the louder the cry for ceasefire…the louder the rants and wild accusations, too. I wonder what an antisemite’s call for a ceasefire, with nothing about releasing hostages or demanding, heaven forbid, that Hamas surrender, would do for Israel? There was a ceasefire in effect with Hamas on October 6.

        The formerly reliable news sources are filled with “they say” reports from the IDF. But no problem reporting unverified info coming from the Hamas controlled Gaza Health Ministry. The devastating photo ops Hamas uses turns the world even more against Israel and all Jews everywhere. I don’t wonder why. Hanas knows what they’re doing. Hamas has their command central in the largest hospital in Gaza. This is a fact, reported on 10 years ago in an Israeli magazine. I’ll try to find a link for it. No one actually seems to believe that Hamas terrorists are using hospitals and ambulances to promote war, which of course is an international war crime. But Israel wants a genocide when they go into a hospital? Hamas would rather show the bloodied, lifeless bodies of their precious but sacrificed, martyred children they used to promote what they admit is their goal of a genocide against all Jews. Because they know it works to make Israel look like the monsters who steal and kill non Jewish children. Variations on this theme have worked for thousands of years to promote the extermination of jews everywhere.

        It’s not hard to see what’s going on, Katie. It’s only hard for those who don’t like Jews. And I’m being polite about it.

      • Katie– I have said it before and I will say it
        again. Violence begets violence.
        The brutal terrorist attack on Oct 7
        clearly prompted a justified response
        from Israel. The question is, what is
        justified ?
        A minister from the extremist Otzma Yehudit
        party says one of Israel’s options in the
        war in Gaza is to drop a nuclear bomb
        on the Strip, for Israel to re-take the land,
        and allow any survivors to move to Ireland ?
        or a desert.
        I don’t think anyone but crazy people think
        that is any kind of option, but it highlights
        the hatred that exists on both sides.
        I have been repeatedly called an antisemite
        because I suggested that diplomacy
        might be an option.
        I don’t believe that Israel can kill it’s way out
        of this situation. We have seen throughout history
        that the children of oppressed and murdered people
        grow up into radical extremist on both sides.
        Note my link above.
        The terrorist attack in Israel will undoubtedly
        push some Israeli citizens to embrace radical
        solutions, and the destruction in Gaza
        will undoubtedly push
        some Palestinians to embrace radical

        I read your link to the increasing levels
        of hateful antisemitic attacks since Oct 7.
        I have been very aware of it, and
        will condemn it every time.
        But at the same time, there is a
        similar increase in hateful anti Muslim
        attacks, which I will condemn every time.
        I hope we can agree that you are not
        an Islamophobe because you posted an
        article that only mentions antisemitic attacks
        and I am not an antisemite because I post
        an article that only mentions attacks on Arabic
        I am condemning both. Are you ?

        As for Jackie’s assertion that
        “formerly reliable news sources are filled
        with “they say” reports… ”
        I read both sides. the “formerly reliable news
        sources” are still reliable in my opinion.
        Very few things said by either side can
        be fully verified at this point. Such is the fog of war.
        But I think it is without question that Hamas is
        using innocent civilians as human shields
        and hiding in hospitals.
        That is a war crime and Hamas needs to be
        dismantled, and their leaders need to be brought to
        justice, whether dead or alive.
        But I think it is also without question that Israel
        is not doing everything possible to avoid the
        “collateral damage” to innocent Palestinians.
        I have seen comments on other news sources
        where people say there are no innocent
        Palestinians, and no innocent Israelis.
        Both of those opinions are equally reprehensible
        to me.

        • Don, I want to reply to what you said in more depth, but I don’t want to make assumptions, so…

          First let me ask, with no sarcasm intended: how do you view Hamas in comparison to Nazis? Do you think they’re as bad?

          What kind of conflict, if any, do you believe can only be settled with warfare?

          Do you think WWII could’ve been resolved without the fighting, meaning through negotiations alone?

        • Remember when the NYTimes falsely claimed an Israeli missile hit a hospital in Gaza, killing 500 Palestinian civilians? The Gaza Health Ministry, run by Hamas, a terrorist organization, tells lies, and the Times prints it, without verification. This incident set off antisemitic violence around the world.
          The world, including antisemites on the Vineyard, are only too happy to spread and believe terrorists’ lies. It’s just so much easier to blame Jews for everything, true or not. I see it everywhere. I’m personally blamed on these pages for wanting a genocide and for hating all Muslims/Arabs. Doesn’t matter that it’s a lie. I’m a Jew, one of “them” and people feel free now to say these lies about me. That’s what it’s like to be Jewish in America now.

  4. Thanks very much for this important and informative article! Far too few people even know what Deism is, let alone know that most of America’s key Founders were Deists.

    After reading Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason back in 1984, I joyfully realized that God gave us our innate reason and not Christianity nor any of the various “revealed” religions. That’s when I became a Deist.

    Nature’s God Gave Us Reason, Not Religion! Bob Johnson

  5. OMG…Christian nation? This is exactly what our founding fathers didn’t want. Separation of church and state…remember?

  6. Christo-fascism has driven me away from the beautiful Christian faith I grew up practicing. These zealots have warped Christianity into a hateful, exclusionary, judgmental weapon against anyone who doesn’t capitulate to their ideology. These extremists have infiltrated all 3 branches of our government and its up to Americans to wake up and vote in numbers too overwhelming to question to oust these fascists from power.

    • “beautiful Christian faith I grew up practicing”
      What was beautiful?
      The stained glass windows, the alter, the confession box, the weird clothes, the candles, the music?
      Those are the reasons I go to church, not to listen to a bro telling me how to lead my life.

    This is an article on blood libel through the ages. It was/is a series of false accusations against Jews as an excuse to murder them and destroy their villages. The latest variation seems to be that it’s okay to murder Jews in their homes and destroy their villages because they “indiscriminately bomb” civilian refugee camps in Gaza, wanting a genocide of Palestinians. Someone on this page made this false claim, as well as accusing me personally of wanting a genocide in Gaza and hating Arabs. He wanted to know exactly what he has said that could be construed as antisemitic. I hope this helps.

    And here is the article disclosing Hamas command bunker in Shifa Hospital– FROM 10 YEARS AGO.

  8. Correction to my poor writing: no one ever on this page said it was okay to murder jews in their villages. What was falsely claimed on this page, and I view it as an antisemitic lie, is that Israel is indiscriminately bombing Gaza and that Israel (and I personally) favor a genocide of Gaza. Oh, and that I hate all Arabs and Muslims.

  9. This isn’t the piece I was expecting based on the topical headline. In light of recent events, it feels incomplete.

    Christians, the sole bad guy mentioned, aren’t overlooking or defending a massacre. Conservatives aren’t tearing down and burning the American flag before Veterans Day. Nor are they highlighting a foreign flag in its place while calling for genocide.

    The concerns mentioned by the writer have been addressed on countless occasions. Let’s treat this as a period of triage. Dangerous, urgent issues should be prioritized. That means fighting domestic antisemitism from all sources: left, right, and center.

    Gay students appear to be safer on liberal campuses at present than their Jewish peers of any orientation. Consider which group feels comfortable expressing their identity (‘Queers For Palestine’) and which was told to hide in the attic during a pro-Hamas meltdown that violated policy.

    Everybody’s feelings matter. . . unless an individual is Jewish. We cannot use the wrong pronouns because that has been labeled ‘literal violence’. But the slaughter of Israelis by men seeking reward in the afterlife? Excused. Ignored. Even fêted on our Western streets.

    Why is this lunacy being embraced by self-styled empaths? (No need to answer. I know.) I watched a video posted by a Jewish American mother. She discussed shopping for her daughter’s bat mitzvah dress. How, for the first time in her life, she was scared to identify herself as a Jew in public.

    So it begins.

    The Hamas objective is openly, fanatically religious, yet some liberal politicians support them, using their official positions to spread filth. One tried to gaslight the nation as to the meaning of ‘from the river…’, denying its deadly-to-Jews intent.

    Why didn’t that lie garner a mention here? Does the intersection of belief and governance only matter when Christians can be taken to task?

    Our country is buckling under an internal lack of logic and sincerity. Of consistency. Some assert that Republicans alone pose a threat to our way of life, no matter how much evidence there is of harm—ancient, injurious harm—being promoted by the other side.

    It’s dishonest. There will always be problems across the board, from both parties, each in need of unified tackling. Those who claim otherwise are selling something; typically an outsized ego.

    In a letter to the editor, someone wrote:

    “Those with any historical awareness, however, understand that the Hamas massacre of Israelis happened not in a vacuum, but in a context analogous to the slave uprising led by Nat Turner in Virginia in 1831.”

    Talk about a dearth of awareness as to who and what Hamas actually is; as to what drives their depravity. They have zero to do with supporting Palestinians. Hamas has been abusing Gazans for years, all while sitting pretty on stolen funds.

    Hamas is not oppressed. Hamas cares nothing about freedom or bettering the lives of anyone, even their own, for their goals involve death.

    This is about hating Jews, and no one needs to take my word for it. They’ve been telling us outright for a couple of decades.

    Do we care?

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