The US Census from a Biblical and Constitutional Perspective

     Should the US Census include a question about whether you are a US Citizen or not? Many opinions abound regarding whether this question is legal, or, even whether it is moral. There are two perspectives in which we can consider the basis of a question regarding citizenry: the bible and the US Constitution. On March 26, 2018 the U.S. Dept of Commerce announced plans to re-include a citizenship question in the 2020 census questionnaire which has not been included on the short form since 1950. Proponents of including the question claimed it is necessary to gather an accurate statistical count, while opponents claimed it might suppress responses to the Decennial Census and therefore lead to an inaccurate count. Multiple states sued the Trump administration arguing that the proposed citizenship question is unconstitutional and may intimidate illegal aliens and undocumented workers, resulting in inaccurate data on immigrant communities.

The Constitution:

  1. Citizenship is defined in the first clause of the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment as: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.
  2. The United States Census is a decennial census mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, which states: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States … according to their respective Numbers.
  3. Title 13 of the United States Code governs how the Census is conducted and how its data is handled.

     In both the Old and New Testaments, the bible references a census as generally done for the purpose of taxation or military recruitment.

Old Testament:

     In addition to two military censuses in Numbers, a special numbering of the Levites was also performed. Rather than carry out military duties, these men were priests who served in the tabernacle. In Numbers 3:15 they were instructed to list every male who was 1 month old or older. The tally came to 22,000. In Numbers 4:46–48 Moses and Aaron listed all of the men between the ages of 30 and 50 who were eligible for service in the Tabernacle and transporting it, with the number counted being 8,580.

     In 2 Samuel 24:1-2, near the end of his reign, King David commissioned his leaders to conduct a census of the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba. David’s commander, Joab, was reluctant to fulfill the king’s command knowing the census violated God’s command. While it’s not explicit in Scripture, David’s motivation for the census seemed to be rooted in pride and self-reliance.

     In 2 Chronicles 2:17-18, Solomon took a census of the foreigners in the land for the purpose of distributing laborers. He counted 153,600 and assigned 70,000 of them as common laborers, 80,000 as quarry workers in the hill country, and 3,600 as foremen. 

     Finally, during the time of Nehemiah, after the return of the exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem, a complete census of the people was recorded in Ezra 2.

New Testament:

     Two Roman censuses are found in the New Testament. The most well-known, of course, took place at the time of Jesus Christ’s birth, reported in Luke 2:1–5.

     “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.” (NLT).  The final census mentioned in the Bible was also recorded by Luke. In Acts 5:37, a census was conducted and Judas of Galilee had gathered a following but was killed and his followers scattered.

     According to the bible, people went back to their home towns and tribes to complete the census. 2 Chronicles 2:17-18 indicates that Solomon took a census of foreigners (immigrants) to help with distribution of labor. However, nothing is specified about “legal” status.

     According to the constitution, the purpose of the Census is to determine proper apportionment of US Representative Representation and tax distribution. The liberal agenda is opposed to this question but they do support the rights of illegal immigrants to vote, citing that they do pay taxes (primarily in the form of sales taxes). The conservative agenda is in support of the question being asked, but they also want tighter controls on immigration and do not believe that illegal immigrants hold to the same level of rights as those afforded to legal immigrants and citizens.

     There is nothing for you to do regarding the debate around the census but it should warrant your awareness. Whatever your “opinion” may be regarding this citizenship question, this decision will have an impact on your citizenry and governance philosophy. Ironically, another question that may be added to the census, but is not garnishing attention, is the “sexual status” of the census taker (gay, lesbian, transgender, etcetera). The sexual status question is supported by the LGBT community but it has not yet been decided if this question will be asked or not.

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