The Bell Foundry

Rediscovering and recovering lost and endangered American liberties by studying our Founders' ideas, contemporaries, and etymology – because our united States "…are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…"

Church and State: Are they really ‘Separate’?


Would you know how to answer someone who claims that our Government may not tolerate any religious influence, based on the idea of “separation of Church and State?”

A good question to ask first might be:
“Where in either the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence is the notion of ‘separation of Church and State,’ as you perceive it, set forth?”

Usually, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment gets referenced, in answer:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,…”

However, the Establishment Clause only means that no law may be made that either 1) establishes a national religion, or 2) prevents anyone from practicing a religion. It does NOT mean that a Congressman cannot read or use the Bible to influence his values and decisions. It does NOT mean that religious references or prayers may not be offered up in Congress.

To emphasize the meaning even further: the Establishment Clause only addresses LAWS. Not plaques, books, or prayers. Just LAWS.

separation-of-church-and-state

 

The first occurrence of the phrase “separation of Church and State” comes from a letter from Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists, as an assurance that Congress would never infringe on their religious liberties:

 

To Messrs. Nehemiah Dodge and Others

A Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association in the State of Connecticut

January 1, 1802

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. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

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.

Thomas Jefferson
President of the United States

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2 comments on “Church and State: Are they really ‘Separate’?

  1. skinnercitycyclist
    November 2, 2014

    Yeah, you just pretty much proved the case for the “wall of separation” by quoting TJ’s letter. And here is where you miss the point of what Jefferson is saying. The Baptists were complaining that they were being forced to pay a tax to the Congregationalist establishment in Connecticut. Jefferson was telling them that he looked forward to the day when the “wall of separation” would apply to the states as well by writing this: “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.”

    Your “argument” maintaining that the wall of separation is one way is tendentious and demonstrably false. Have a good one.

  2. Seth
    October 4, 2015

    Thanks for your comment. Sorry this reply is a year old. I was interested to read more about the original letter from the Danbury Baptists and surrounding context, but all of that is really just periphery – the core meaning of the First Amendment and Jefferson’s understanding of it remain unchanged: Jefferson’s “wall of separation” (the First Amendment’s protection of our natural right to practice religion) prevents the Federal Government from infringing on religion, and does NOT protect the government FROM RELIGION. All you have to do is look at the clear indication in the First Amendment – that government MAY NOT INTERFERE with religion: “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]…” You and others are CLEARLY TWISTING IT to mean what you would rather have it mean.
    So, when Jefferson said “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,” I believe he was promising to obey the First Amendment’s Establishment and Free Exercise clauses, and by doing so, man’s natural rights would continue to be protected in that area. ALSO – I believe you are misinterpreting the word “progress” in this context. In Jefferson’s letter, I don’t think he meant “progressive development,” “evolution,” or “a working toward,” as you seem to; but rather he means “the CONTINUATION of the ideas of natural religious freedoms, as set forth in the First Amendment.”
    The most poignant refutation of your comments, though, can be understood by asking yourself one question: if a U.S. president was dead-set on keeping any religious references, influence, or adherence OUT of government, THEN WHY ON EARTH would he have signed the letter that was supposedly meant to clarify said “separation” with the following RELIGIOUS SENTIMENT: “I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man…?”

    Keep researching, sir. At least you are reading our founding documents.

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