The Constitution was adopted by the Constitutional Convention on that date in 1787 but was not formally ratified until June of 1788.
Though the Constitution makes no mention of God, the case for the American Revolution frequently was painted in terms of morality, and declared as "God's will" in sermons preached in colonist churches.Many Christians today consider America a "Christian" nation. Where did the writers of the Constitution stand regarding religion, and what did they see as the role of faith in the fledgling country?
"Demographically, you could argue that on the face of it, we are a Christian country," said Mark Tooley, a spokesman for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. "Eighty to 85 percent of people in this country identify themselves as Christian.
"America is more Christian than Egypt is Muslim, or India is Hindu, by comparison. It is not a Christian country in that we're not a theocracy. Christianity is not described as the 'official' religion of the nation," he said.
THEY WERE CHRISTIANS
In terms of the Founding Father's intentions, Tooley said he believed the Constitution's creators were Christians, though several were "theologically more Unitarian in their personal beliefs."
"Almost all of them were active church members and church-goers, and all were strongly influenced by Christianity," Tooley said. "They understood it to be a vital, cultural and social force in America, without which, the laws they envisioned probably could not function effectively."
But the Founding Fathers themselves seem to embody contradiction. Though George Washington regularly attended church, he has been classified by some historians as a "deist," and it is said he did not kneel during prayer or take Communion.
Deists acknowledge the existence of God based on reason and rationality. They also believe that God created the world and natural laws, but does not intervene in human affairs.
Washington, however, kept a prayer journal and frequently credited God's providence for America's birth, as illustrated by his presidential Proclamation of Thanksgiving in 1789.
"There are several ways to look at the issue," said Jay Case, department chairman of history, sociology at Malone College in Canton, Ohio. "I see two mistakes in terms of historical interpretation. Some Christians see the Founders as Bible-believing Evangelicals, though many, if not most, were deists.
"Another mistake is, some people interpret that as (they were) completely devoid of religion, that they had this stance where religion was completely outside of the public square. I think most of the Founders, even deists like Jefferson and (Benjamin) Franklin - who may have been among the most secular - believed religion was important for establishing morality in the social order.
"But they were obviously very suspicious of an established religion. They wanted to create a system where one religion did not dominate."
Though Thomas Jefferson wrote Virginia's Statute of Religious Freedom and made mention of God in the Declaration of Independence, he openly rejected and criticized traditional Christianity and its Bible, writing his own version of Jesus' life, devoid of divinity and miracles.
Because of his outspokenness, Jefferson had to defend himself against charges of atheism when he ran for president.
"Christianity, as they understood it, entailed individual rights and freedoms that would afford full liberty to Christians as well as non-Christians," Tooley said. "Most Americans still believe what the Founders believed: That God has given each individual the freedom to practice their individual beliefs."
ATTEMPTS HAVE FAILED
Case said numerous attempts to amend the Constitution to acknowledge God have repeatedly failed, "Even at the times when you had really wide popular support and belief that the United States was a Christian nation."
Case said religious minorities opposed the idea for fear of discrimination, while others in the mainstream view it as something that could potentially limit religious freedom. Case further noted that like so many other issues in a democracy, the conversation about religion and government is an ongoing process.
"History has shown that in every era, it gets framed in different ways," he said.
"We're still trying to figure out how to do this most equitably," Case said. "In my personal opinion, when we teach history, we don't pay enough attention to how religion works. Maybe because it's too controversial. We don't really have a good language or method for talking about these things, so we end up with all kinds of strange debates."