The Truth about Separation of Church and State
God bless America—-and He has! Since her independence God has richly blessed America and as such, we are the greatest nation on earth. Why? Because we are a people founded on biblical principles and Godly values. Contrary to what you may have heard, our nation’s founding fathers were NOT agnostics or deists who formed a secular government. Quite often, our Founding Fathers are misquoted or their statements are taken out of context in an effort to support false theories that they were not religious men. The single most cited source during the founding era of our nation was the Bible, with 34% of the Founding Fathers’ quotes taken from scriptures. Our Founding Fathers were, in fact, Christians that lived their faith, understood the significance of keeping God in public policy and attributed their success as a nation to Him.
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”- George Washington, 1796
Seeing that Our Foundation is Rooted in Religious Principles, Where Did Separation of Church and State Come From? How Did This Term Become so Misconstrued?
The First Amendment states– “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There is no language in the First Amendment or any government founding document that says separation of church and state. The phrase was never even discussed in the months of discussion (from June 7 – Sept. 25, 1789) that ensued over the amendment.
The intent of the First Amendment was to limit the Federal Government by:
(1) Prohibiting the establishment of a national denomination (Establishment Clause). America had faced this when she was part of Great Britain and the British Government could decree an official denomination to which everyone should belong to and punish those that refused. The Founding Fathers did not want this to happen in America.
(2) Prohibiting the interfering or limiting of public religious expressions (Free Exercise Clause). The government could not forbid the people from religious expressions whether privately or publicly. It requires that the government protect, not prevent, public religious expressions.
Origins of the Phrase “Separation of Church and State”
This phrase came about 13 years after the First Amendment was established in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, our third President, who had a strong position on religious liberty and fought for these rights. The Danbury Connecticut Baptists penned a letter to Thomas Jefferson expressing their concerns that the government would restrict public religious expressions. They also expressed that freedom of religion was a God-given right and that the government should be “powerless to restrict religious activities unless those activities directly harmed someone else.” In his January 1, 1802 letter, Jefferson responded to the Danbury Baptists that he shared their concerns and beliefs and he assured them that their freedom to practice their religion was an inalienable right and would not be intruded upon by the Government. In his letter Jefferson stated that there was a “wall of separation between church and state” which would prevent the government from hindering religious activities. Separation of church and state therefore meant that the government would protect, not prevent, religious expressions.
For about 150 years after Jefferson wrote that letter, there were no misinterpretations of the meaning “separation of church and state.” In fact, in 1853, there was a petition to Congress to separate Christian principles from government i.e. they wanted chaplains removed from congress and military quoting the “separation of church and state” erroneously as a support to remove religious expressions. It was rejected by Congress in 1854 which stated that— “Had the people (the Founding Fathers), during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle. At the time of adoption of the Constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged, but not any one denomination…In this age, there is no substitute for Christianity…That was the religion of the founders of the republic, and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants.”
Clearly, the intent of the framework of the First Amendment was to PROTECT religious freedoms. Two years later, in 1856, the US Congress reiterated– “The great, viral, and conservative element in our system (that is, the things that holds our system together) is the belief of our people in the pure doctrines and Divine truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Not only did the Congress support this belief but the Supreme Court as well. In an 1878 case when the plaintiffs used the phrase “separation of church and state” for their advantage, the Court did not allow them to apply Jefferson’s quote out of context. Instead of citing the phrase, the Supreme Court reprinted a lengthy segment from Jefferson’s entire letter to prove that the term “separation of church and state” was said to protect and not remove Christian values and practices from public policy.
So What Happened? How Did the Phrase “Separation of Church And State” Get Taken Out of Context?
In 1947, in a US Supreme Court case of Emerson V. Board of Education, a drastic change took place. The Supreme Court cited Jefferson’s “Separation” statement out of context, ignoring the rest of his letter and announced a new policy. It stated— “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.” As a result of the 1947 US Supreme Court declaration, this became a new way of thinking and a mandate to many secularists to pursue removing religious expressions from the public square. The separation of church and state phrase has been repeated so much that it has become the catalyst used to remove God from public policy. It has been used so much that people now mistakenly think that it is actually part of our First Amendment. Since 1947, the term “separation of church and state” has been cited in over 4000 court cases. It has become the vehicle used to establish a policy of public secularization which led to removing religious principles from education in 1962. With no precedents (which at that time was unheard of), the Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that it was unconstitutional for voluntary prayer to be said in schools and the prohibition broadened when in 1985, the Supreme Court ruled that silent voluntary prayer in schools was also unconstitutional.
Additionally, the historical meaning of “church” in the phrase “separation of church and state” meant a “federally-established national denomination”. In 1962, the US Supreme Court also redefined the meaning of “Church” to mean any religious activity and as such this meant that Government should not allow any public religious expression/activity.
A phrase from a private letter became twisted and misconstrued, inaccurately redefining the First Amendment and becoming the public doctrine we now know it to be today. More and more, we are removing God from public affairs and policies using “separation of church and state” as the weapon to do so. In the words of Dr. William James, the Father of Modern Psychology, “there is nothing so absurd but if you repeat it often enough people will believe it.” Sadly, this statement rings true in the society we live in today and is a tool used to pull people away from the truth.
Source: Summarized from “America’s Godly Heritage”, TV programming shown on TBN network on July 4, 2012 at 4.30pm (87 minutes)
In the comings weeks, we will examine the “Consequences of Separating/Removing God from Public Policies.”