When the founders established this country, the primary model was Britain. Historian Gordon Wood even states in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Radicalism of the American Revolution that:
In our enthusiasm to contrast the "traditional" society of the mother country with the "modernity" of the colonies, we have often overlooked how dominantly British and traditional the colonists' culture was; indeed, in some respects colonial society was more traditional than that of the mother country. Most colonial leaders in the mid-eighteenth century thought of themselves not as Americans but as Britons. They read much of the same literature, the same law books, the same history, as their brethren at home, and they drew most of their conceptions of society and their values from their reading. Whatever sense of unity the disparate colonies of North America had come from their common tie to the British crown and from their membership in the British empire. Most colonists knew more about events in London than they did about occurrences in neighboring colonies. They were provincials living on the edges of the pan-British world, and all the more British for that. Their little colonial capitals resembled, as one touring British officer remarked of Williamsburg, nothing so much as "a good Country Town in England." Philadelphia seemed only a smaller version of Bristol. Most English visitors in fact tended to describe the colonists simply as country cousins -- more boorish, more populist, more egalitarian perhaps, with too much Presbyterianism and religious nonconformity -- but still Englishmen, not essentially different from the inhabitants of Yorkshire or Norwich or the rest of rural and small-town provincial England.Simply put, the colonists were proud to be British. When the debacle over the Stamp Act caused a revolt, and American colonists were "compelled" to take to the streets in protest, most of them saw the Stamp Act's repeal as proof positive that their rights as Englishmen were in fact being protected. In fact, many became even stronger supporters of British law, believing that the Stamp Act was the quintessential example of how Englishmen could petition their government for redress, and that the government would heed their call.
Now, it's obvious that much of this changed during the early years of the American Revolution. However, it would be foolish for us to completely reject the massive impact that British history, culture, etc. had on the shaping of the American republic. And since Britain was/is a "Christian Nation" -- A Christian Nation in its history, established state religion, etc -- might we need to start here in our search for America's Christian/non-Christian heritage?
The way I see it is like this: clearly the cultural impact of the "Mother Country" cause Christianity to be at the forefront of American life. However, the founding fathers also knew their history and were well aware of the difficulties that religious strife had brought their British brethren across the Atlantic. Thomas Jefferson captured this sentiment when he wrote:
"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites." ~Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query #17.And the "Father" of the Constitution, James Madison, wrote:
"Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together."So what are we to make of this? Did the influence of the "Mother Country" lead our founding generation to embrace its Christian heritage by establishing another "Christian Nation" across the sea? Or did history tell the founders that such an enterprise would only reap destruction and violence in the "New World?"
~James Madison to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822
"The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries."
~James Madison letter to Congress rejecting the use of government land for private churches, 1803
"We are teaching the world the great truth that Governments do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion Flourishes in greater purity , without than with the aid of government."
~James Madison to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822
"Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
~James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785
With this in mind, I present to you the following video. It is a British forum on the question, "Is Britain a Christian Nation?" It includes the likes of Richard Dawkins and Kelvin Mackenzie.