Separation of Church from State


VIOLATION OF CHURCH AND STATE – VIOLATION OF CHURCH AND STATE  – VIOLATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

How many times do we hear that phrase?

Quite often in today’s America … and it is successfully used to bludgeon many into submission to a totally secular world view.

We see the phrase used often in court cases involving prayer in schools and prayer at various civic meetings.

We see the phrase successfully used to  shut out any teaching of views contrary to the orthodoxy of Neo-Darwinism in high schools, colleges and universities around the country; any discussion of creation or intelligent design are strictly prohibited – case in point is Professor Edward Hedin at Ball State University – see my article on this matter at: https://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/ball-state-university-intelligent-design-my-7-disappointments/

But is “separation of church and state” what was intended at the foundation of this nation in 1787 with the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?

separation of church from state

My reading of history says no … “separation of church and state” was not the intent, but rather “separation of church from state.

You see, back in the day of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, states and their delegates to the convention feared a too strong and tyrannical central government. Thus as a condition of ratification, a Bill of Rights was promised as a condition of ratification. The 10 amendments known as the Bill of Rights provided protection for individual citizens and the various states –  protection against an over-reaching federal government.

In my view, any cases brought before our courts as violations of church and state should be dismissed on the basis that the courts have no standing in such cases. Obvious exceptions to his stance would be criminal charges and cases brought to court where religion is used as cover for otherwise criminal activity.  

You may consider my views  on this to be radical, but please consider that this was the view of the founders of this nation, and the Constitution they birthed. That 1’st Amendment has never been amended or abolished, so I’m content to stand with the founders.

Read below an analysis of the issue by David Barton of Wall Builders.

*  *  *  *

The Separation of Church and State

David Barton – 01/2001

In 1947, in the case Everson v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court declared, “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.” The “separation of church and state” phrase which they invoked, and which has today become so familiar, was taken from an exchange of letters between President Thomas Jefferson and the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, shortly after Jefferson became President.

The election of Jefferson – America’s first Anti-Federalist President – elated many Baptists since that denomination, by-and-large, was also strongly Anti-Federalist. This political disposition of the Baptists was understandable, for from the early settlement of Rhode Island in the 1630s to the time of the federal Constitution in the 1780s, the Baptists had often found themselves suffering from the centralization of power.

Consequently, now having a President who not only had championed the rights of Baptists in Virginia but who also had advocated clear limits on the centralization of government powers, the Danbury Baptists wrote Jefferson a letter of praise on October 7, 1801, telling him:

Among the many millions in America and Europe who rejoice in your election to office, we embrace the first opportunity . . . to express our great satisfaction in your appointment to the Chief Magistracy in the United States. . . . [W]e have reason to believe that America’s God has raised you up to fill the Chair of State out of that goodwill which He bears to the millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for the arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you. . . . And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his Heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator. [1]

However, in that same letter of congratulations, the Baptists also expressed to Jefferson their grave concern over the entire concept of the First Amendment, including of its guarantee for “the free exercise of religion”:

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. . . . [T]herefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. [2]

In short, the inclusion of protection for the “free exercise of religion” in the constitution suggested to the Danbury Baptists that the right of religious expression was government-given (thus alienable) rather than God-given (hence inalienable), and that therefore the government might someday attempt to regulate religious expression. This was a possibility to which they strenuously objected-unless, as they had explained, someone’s religious practice caused him to “work ill to his neighbor.”

Jefferson understood their concern; it was also his own. In fact, he made numerous declarations about the constitutional inability of the federal government to regulate, restrict, or interfere with religious expression. For example:

[N]o power over the freedom of religion . . . [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution. Kentucky Resolution, 1798 [3]

In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government. Second Inaugural Address, 1805 [4]

[O]ur excellent Constitution . . . has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary. Letter to the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1808 [5]

I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions . . . or exercises. Letter to Samuel Millar, 1808 [6]

Jefferson believed that the government was to be powerless to interfere with religious expressions for a very simple reason: he had long witnessed the unhealthy tendency of government to encroach upon the free exercise of religion. As he explained to Noah Webster:

It had become an universal and almost uncontroverted position in the several States that the purposes of society do not require a surrender of all our rights to our ordinary governors . . . and which experience has nevertheless proved they [the government] will be constantly encroaching on if submitted to them; that there are also certain fences which experience has proved peculiarly efficacious [effective] against wrong and rarely obstructive of right, which yet the governing powers have ever shown a disposition to weaken and remove. Of the first kind, for instance, is freedom of religion. [7]

Thomas Jefferson had no intention of allowing the government to limit, restrict, regulate, or interfere with public religious practices. He believed, along with the other Founders, that the First Amendment had been enacted only to prevent the federal establishment of a national denomination – a fact he made clear in a letter to fellow-signer of the Declaration of Independence Benjamin Rush:

[T]he clause of the Constitution which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians and Congregationalists. The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes and they believe that any portion of power confided to me will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly. [8]

Jefferson had committed himself as President to pursuing the purpose of the First Amendment: preventing the “establishment of a particular form of Christianity” by the Episcopalians, Congregationalists, or any other denomination.

Since this was Jefferson’s view concerning religious expression, in his short and polite reply to the Danbury Baptists on January 1, 1802, he assured them that they need not fear; that the free exercise of religion would never be interfered with by the federal government. As he explained:

Gentlemen, – The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association give me the highest satisfaction. . . . Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association assurances of my high respect and esteem. [9]

Jefferson’s reference to “natural rights” invoked an important legal phrase which was part of the rhetoric of that day and which reaffirmed his belief that religious liberties were inalienable rights. While the phrase “natural rights” communicated much to people then, to most citizens today those words mean little.

By definition, “natural rights” included “that which the Books of the Law and the Gospel do contain.” [10] That is, “natural rights” incorporated what God Himself had guaranteed to man in the Scriptures. Thus, when Jefferson assured the Baptists that by following their “natural rights” they would violate no social duty, he was affirming to them that the free exercise of religion was their inalienable God-given right and therefore was protected from federal regulation or interference.

So clearly did Jefferson understand the Source of America’s inalienable rights that he even doubted whether America could survive if we ever lost that knowledge. He queried:

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have lost the only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? [11]

Jefferson believed that God, not government, was the Author and Source of our rights and that the government, therefore, was to be prevented from interference with those rights. Very simply, the “fence” of the Webster letter and the “wall” of the Danbury letter were not to limit religious activities in public; rather they were to limit the power of the government to prohibit or interfere with those expressions.

Earlier courts long understood Jefferson’s intent. In fact, when Jefferson’s letter was invoked by the Supreme Court (only twice prior to the 1947 Everson case – the Reynolds v. United States case in 1878), unlike today’s Courts which publish only his eight-word separation phrase, that earlier Court published Jefferson’s entire letter and then concluded:

Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it [Jefferson’s letter] may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the Amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere [religious] opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order. (emphasis added) [12]

That Court then succinctly summarized Jefferson’s intent for “separation of church and state”:

[T]he rightful purposes of civil government are for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order. In th[is] . . . is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the church and what to the State. [13]

With this even the Baptists had agreed; for while wanting to see the government prohibited from interfering with or limiting religious activities, they also had declared it a legitimate function of government “to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.”

That Court, therefore, and others (for example, Commonwealth v. Nesbit and Lindenmuller v. The People), identified actions into which – if perpetrated in the name of religion – the government did have legitimate reason to intrude. Those activities included human sacrifice, polygamy, bigamy, concubinage, incest, infanticide, parricide, advocation and promotion of immorality, etc.

Such acts, even if perpetrated in the name of religion, would be stopped by the government since, as the Court had explained, they were “subversive of good order” and were “overt acts against peace.” However, the government was never to interfere with traditional religious practices outlined in “the Books of the Law and the Gospel” – whether public prayer, the use of the Scriptures, public acknowledgements of God, etc.

Therefore, if Jefferson’s letter is to be used today, let its context be clearly given – as in previous years. Furthermore, earlier Courts had always viewed Jefferson’s Danbury letter for just what it was: a personal, private letter to a specific group. There is probably no other instance in America’s history where words spoken by a single individual in a private letter – words clearly divorced from their context – have become the sole authorization for a national policy. Finally, Jefferson’s Danbury letter should never be invoked as a stand-alone document. A proper analysis of Jefferson’s views must include his numerous other statements on the First Amendment.

For example, in addition to his other statements previously noted, Jefferson also declared that the “power to prescribe any religious exercise. . . . must rest with the States” (emphasis added). Nevertheless, the federal courts ignore this succinct declaration and choose rather to misuse his separation phrase to strike down scores of State laws which encourage or facilitate public religious expressions. Such rulings against State laws are a direct violation of the words and intent of the very one from whom the courts claim to derive their policy.

One further note should be made about the now infamous “separation” dogma. The Congressional Records from June 7 to September 25, 1789, record the months of discussions and debates of the ninety Founding Fathers who framed the First Amendment. Significantly, not only was Thomas Jefferson not one of those ninety who framed the First Amendment, but also, during those debates not one of those ninety Framers ever mentioned the phrase “separation of church and state.” It seems logical that if this had been the intent for the First Amendment – as is so frequently asserted-then at least one of those ninety who framed the Amendment would have mentioned that phrase; none did.

In summary, the “separation” phrase so frequently invoked today was rarely mentioned by any of the Founders; and even Jefferson’s explanation of his phrase is diametrically opposed to the manner in which courts apply it today. “Separation of church and state” currently means almost exactly the opposite of what it originally meant.


Endnotes
1. Letter of October 7, 1801, from Danbury (CT) Baptist Association to Thomas Jefferson, from the Thomas Jefferson Papers Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C. (Return)
2. Id. (Return)
3. The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia, John P. Foley, editor (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), p. 977; see also Documents of American History, Henry S. Cummager, editor (NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1948), p. 179. (Return)
4. Annals of the Congress of the United States (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1852, Eighth Congress, Second Session, p. 78, March 4, 1805; see also James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897 (Published by Authority of Congress, 1899), Vol. I, p. 379, March 4, 1805. (Return)
5. Thomas Jefferson, Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. I, p. 379, March 4, 1805. (Return)
6. Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, From the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, editor (Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1830), Vol. IV, pp. 103-104, to the Rev. Samuel Millar on January 23, 1808. (Return)
7. Jefferson, Writings, Vol. VIII, p. 112-113, to Noah Webster on December 4, 1790. (Return)
8. Jefferson, Writings, Vol. III, p. 441, to Benjamin Rush on September 23, 1800. (Return)
9. Jefferson, Writings, Vol. XVI, pp. 281-282, to the Danbury Baptist Association on January 1, 1802. (Return)
10. Richard Hooker, The Works of Richard Hooker (Oxford: University Press, 1845), Vol. I, p. 207. (Return)
11. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia: Matthew Carey, 1794), Query XVIII, p. 237. (Return)
12. Reynolds v. U. S., 98 U. S. 145, 164 (1878). (Return)
13. Reynolds at 163.(Return)

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3 responses to “Separation of Church from State

  1. Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution, much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the first place, the Supreme Court has thoughtfully, authoritatively, and repeatedly decided as much; it is long since established law. In the second place, the Court is right. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of “We the people” (not a deity), (2) according that government limited, enumerated powers, (3) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (4) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (5), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day (by which governments generally were grounded in some appeal to god(s)), the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which affirmatively constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.

    That the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, to some who mistakenly supposed it was there and, upon learning of their error, reckon they’ve solved a Constitutional mystery. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to name one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

    To the extent that some nonetheless would like confirmation–in those very words–of the founders’ intent to separate government and religion, Madison and Jefferson supplied it. Some try to pass off the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education as simply a misreading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists–as if that were the only basis of the Court’s decision. Instructive as that letter is, it played but a small part in the Court’s decision. Rather, the Court discussed the historical context in which the Constitution and First Amendment were drafted, noting the expressed understanding of Madison perhaps even more than Jefferson, and only after concluding its analysis and stating its conclusion did the Court refer–once–to Jefferson’s letter, largely to borrow his famous metaphor as a clever label or summary of its conclusion. The notion, often heard, that the Court rested its decision solely or largely on that letter is a red herring.

    Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). Indeed, he understood the original Constitution–without the First Amendment–to separate religion and government. He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

    As for Barton, zealotry more than fact shapes his “work,” which has been so thoroughly, repeatedly, and authoritatively debunked by so many who have demonstrated it to be riddled with slipshod research, shoddy analysis, and downright dishonestly that I can but wonder how anyone can call him an “authority” on this subject without turning red from embarrassment. Perhaps the handiest debunking is Chris Rodda’s book, Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History (2006) (available free on line http://www.liarsforjesus.com/), where she conveniently collects and directly refutes his many mistakes and lies, all with documentation and references so complete one can readily assess the facts for one’s self without the need to take either Barton’s or Rodda’s word for it.

  2. Thank you Doug for your comments. I encourage my readers to look into this issue for themselves. When I see cases like the Ball Sate University invoking “separation of church and state” to expel and censure the legitimate science discourse of Intelligent Design, I am concerned where this may lead; perhaps one day declaring that teaching Genesis creationism in Sunday school to be child abuse?

  3. Pingback: Lexington Libertarian | The Misinterpretation Of The Separation Of Church And State

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