Mark Meckler is the president of the Convention of States Foundation and a leading proponent of the right-wing movement to get state legislatures to call for a dangerous Article V convention that will consider constitutional amendments to radically alter American government and society by making much of what the federal government now does unconstitutional.
While this effort relies upon fundamental ignorance of the role and purpose of the system of government created by the Constitution, it also appears to be driven in part by the myths promoted by religious-right pseudo-historian David Barton and parroted by various Christian nationalists, several of which Meckler repeated during a recent livestream.
“The vast majority [of the Founding Fathers] were Christians of one denomination or another,” Meckler asserted. “They understood the world in terms of a biblical worldview. They viewed it through a scriptural lens. If you look at the history of the drafting of the Constitution and the debates around the Constitution, the number one textual reference for the men in convention was the Bible; far and away above anything else that was referenced during those debates, the Bible was referenced. So the idea that we’re not somehow a Christian country based on Judeo-Christian values is a modern fabrication.”
“The men that were in the hall when they were drafting that Constitution, those men relied upon divine inspiration, they prayed for divine guidance,” he added. “There’s a moment in convention when Ben Franklin specifically reminds them that they called on the hand of Providence—on God’s hand of Providence—during the Revolutionary War, and they hadn’t been doing so in convention. And he called for them to begin each day with prayer and to call for God’s hand on the convention. So I think while we can’t necessarily say that the [Constitution] was divinely inspired, certainly the men who were in that hall debating and drafting that document were calling upon God’s wisdom and guidance.”
Predictably, Meckler’s claims are fundamentally misleading.
As Right Wing Watch has explained before, the claim that the Founders cited the Bible more than any other book relies on a misrepresentation of 1984 study by professor Donald S. Lutz of the University of Houston that sought to identify which writers and sources of ideas were most cited in “the political writings of Americans published between 1760 and 1805.”
The only reason that the Bible was cited so frequently is because many of the writings included in the research were sermons that had been reprinted in pamphlets for mass distribution. Once those sermon pamphlets were excluded, quotes from the Bible appeared no more frequently in the political writings of the era than citations of the classical or common law.
On top of that, when the study focused solely on the public political writings from 1787 to 1788, when the U.S. Constitution was written and ratified, “the Bible’s prominence disappears” almost completely, Lutz found.
Thus, the Bible was not referenced more than any other source during the Constitutional Convention, nor did the convention “begin each day with prayer.”
While Franklin did suggest doing so, the delegates chose not to heed his call and adjourned without taking any action on his suggestion. As historian Richard Beeman recounts in his book, “Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution“:
At the conclusion of the day’s session in which the delegates rejected his suggestion, [Franklin] scrawled a note on the bottom of the speech he had written expressing his incredulity: “The convention, except three or four persons, thought prayer unnecessary!”
Debunking this sort of false Christian nationalist history is more than just an academic exercise because, as Meckler demonstrated, these myths are used by politicians and political operatives to push for harmful public policies that will weaken the separation of church and state, undermine women’s rights, deny legal equality to LGBTQ Americans, and fundamentally reshape the Constitution.