Freedom of religion is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, but to Dan Meyer, a North Carolina businessman, that does not mean the Founding Fathers were not inspired by God.
"Many documents demonstrate that they really received divine guidance in putting together that constitution," he says. "It's not the Bible. It is a man-made document. But most of the writers of that document acknowledged that God gave them guidance and wisdom in putting that document together."
Meyer, 70, recently retired as president of the Chamber of Commerce in the North Carolina mountain town of Boone. Previously he worked as a marriage counselor and ran a retirement home. But he sees the world, and his country, primarily through the lens of his Christian faith. America, he thinks, has abandoned the principles on which it was based, including a deference to God.
"The separation of church and state has totally been misconstrued and misused to malign Christianity and to separate the Christian foundations of our country out of our education system, out of so many things," he told NPR in a recent interview. "I think we need to get back to those basics."
For most of Meyer's adult life, he has led Bible-study groups. His current class at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone has about 30 students, most of them older than 50, and the state of the nation is often the subject of his lectures.
"We're in desperate straits right now," he told his class on a recent Sunday morning. "We have strayed from the Founding Fathers. We have banned the Word in public places. But guess what? We have allowed the leadership to become what it is, and we have a responsibility to do what we can to turn people back to the Word, to turn people back to biblical principles."
The 2016 election, in Meyer's view, presents "a tough, tough choice." He intends to vote but sees "morality issues" with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. His concerns about Trump were heightened after the release of a 2005 videotape in which Trump boasted of being able to grope women sexually.
"I'm struggling," he said. "It will come down to choosing the lesser of evils."
Paramount for him, he says, is preserving the freedom for him, his children and his grandchildren to express and practice their Christian faith in the United States without government interference. Toward that end, he wants the next president to appoint more conservative justices to the Supreme Court, something Trump has promised to do.
In his Bible-study group, Meyer stops short of discussing presidential politics, but he drops hints. "You know," he told his students in his recent class, "the Old Testament is full of situations where God used even evil men to accomplish his will."
In his own life, however, Meyer is determined to be good. Last month, he spent a week helping flood victims in Louisiana. "The Bible teaches us to care for our neighbors," saying that he sees that same duty flowing from his U.S. citizenship.
"Being an American is an undeserved blessing, privilege, and responsibility," he said. "I feel an obligation to use any advantage that is incumbent with citizenship to invest in the well-being of others materially, socially and spiritually. To whom much is given, much is required."
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
What does it mean to be an American? We've been asking a lot of people that question as part of A Nation Engaged, our election year project with some member stations. For today's answer, we go to North Carolina and Dan Meyer. He's 70 years old, the recently retired president of the Boone area Chamber of Commerce. But it's his religion that guides his view.
DAN MEYER: You've got to start with Genesis 1, and that's God created. And if he created, then he has a plan. And so it's up to me to find out what that plan is and look for what he might reveal.
CORNISH: Dan Meyer recently spoke with NPR's Tom Gjelten.
TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Before running the Chamber of Commerce in Boone, Dan Meyer worked as a marriage counselor and ran a retirement home, and along the way, he taught adult Sunday school.
MEYER: I grew up in a Christian home where the Bible was a very practical part of our lives. And so it made sense to me - is to continue to study as I went along. And if you study it, then you want to be able to share it. And so I got involved in teaching, but I've been teaching Sunday school for probably almost 45 years.
GJELTEN: As he's doing on this Sunday morning.
MEYER: Look at Galatians 5:16. Flip over there. So what are those temptations?
GJELTEN: Meyer recently returned from helping flood victims in Louisiana. He told me his charity is motivated by his Christian faith, and he thinks America's founding fathers were inspired by such faith back when they drafted the constitution.
MEYER: Many documents demonstrate that they really received divine guidance in putting together that constitution. It's not the Bible, OK? It is a man-made document, but most of the writers of the document acknowledge that God gave them guidance and wisdom in putting that document together.
GJELTEN: In Meyer's view, America as a country has gone wrong culturally by straying from some underlying moral principles about personal responsibility, the sanctity of life and deference to God.
MEYER: Separation of church and state has totally been misconstrued and misused to malign Christianity and to separate the Christian foundations of our country out of our education system, out of so many things. So I think we need to get back to those basics.
GJELTEN: As a Christian, Meyer says he is inspired neither by Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton. His vote he says will probably swing on who they'd appoint to the Supreme Court. Trump has alienated many Christians, but he has promised to name conservative justices. And on this recent Sunday, Meyer had this observation for his Bible class.
MEYER: You know, the Old Testament is full of situations where God used even evil men to accomplish his will.
GJELTEN: He won't say how others should vote, but he shares his feelings on what's at stake.
MEYER: We're in a - desperate straits right now. We have strayed from the founding fathers. We have strayed from the word. But guess what? We have allowed the leadership to become what it is, and we have a responsibility to do what we can to turn people back to the word, to turn people back to biblical principles.
GJELTEN: Because to this retired businessman at least, being American means accepting that America was built on biblical principles and a Christian foundation. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, with Dan Meyer at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.