The seperation of church and state
Barton, David (2015–12–22). The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson
Significantly, the entire history of the separation doctrine centered on preventing the State from taking control of the Church, meddling with or controlling its doctrines, or punishing its religious expressions. Throughout history, it had been the State that had seized and controlled the Church, not the opposite. Furthermore, the separation doctrine had never been used to secularize the public square. As affirmed by early Quaker leader Will Wood, “The separation of Church and State does not mean the exclusion of God, righteousness, morality, from the State.”
Early Methodist bishop Charles Galloway agreed that “the separation of the Church from the State did not mean the severance of the State from God, or of the nation from Christianity.” The philosophy of keeping the State at arm’s length and limited from either regulating religious practices or punishing religious expressions was planted deeply into American thinking.
Eventually, it was nationally enshrined in the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the Free Exercise thereof …” The first part of this Amendment is now called the Establishment Clause and the latter part, the Free Exercise Clause. The language of each is clear; and both clauses were pointed solely at the State, not the Church. The Establishment Clause prohibited the State from enforcing ecclesiastical conformity, and the Free Exercise Clause ensured that the State would protect — rather than suppress, as it currently does — citizens’ rights of conscience and religious expression. Both clauses are explicit prohibitions only on the power of Congress (i.e., the government), not on religious individuals or organizations.
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This was the meaning of “separation of church and state” with which Jefferson was intimately familiar; and it was this interpretation, and not the modern perversion of it, that he repeatedly reaffirmed in his own writings and practices. This is especially evident in his famous letter that invoked the separation phrase. Consider the background of that letter and why Jefferson wrote it. When Jefferson, the political head of those originally known as the Anti-Federalists (but subsequently known as Democratic-Republicans, or Republicans), became president in 1801, his election was particularly well received by Baptists. This political disposition was understandable, for across much of American history, the Baptists had frequently found their free exercise of religion restricted under the power of a legal alliance between the government and state-established churches.
Baptist ministers in various regions had often been beaten, imprisoned, fined, or banned by civic authorities who were joined to state-established churches, so it was not surprising that Baptists strongly opposed centralized government power, including at the federal level. For this reason, the predominately Baptist state of Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention; and the Baptists were the only denomination in which a majority of its clergy across the nation voted against the ratification of the Constitution for fear of federally-consolidated powers.
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.” The Danbury Baptists then expressed their grave concern over governmental laws that protected their free exercise. As they explained: 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; 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…. Religion is considered as the first object of legislation and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted and not as inalienable rights.
This was the meaning of “separation of church and state” with which Jefferson was intimately familiar; and it was this interpretation, and not the modern perversion of it, that he repeatedly reaffirmed in his own writings and practices. This is especially evident in his famous letter that invoked the separation phrase.
These ministers were troubled that their “religious privileges” were being guaranteed by the apparent generosity of government. Many citizens today do not grasp their concern. Why would ministers object to the State guaranteeing their enjoyment of religious privileges? Because to the farsighted Danbury Baptists, the mere presence of governmental language protecting their free exercise of religion suggested that its exercise had become a government-granted right (and thus a right that could be taken away or regulated) rather than a God-given unalienable right (which was to be untouched by government). Fearing that the inclusion of language in governing documents securing their “religious privileges” might someday cause the government wrongly to believe that since it had “granted” the freedom of religious expression it therefore, had the authority to control and restrict.
No power over the freedom of religion … [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution [the First Amendment]. 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. O ur excellent Constitution … has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary. None of these or any other statements by Jefferson contain even the slightest hint that religion should be removed from the public square, or that it should be secularized, but rather only that the government could not limit or regulate it. The possibility that the government might do so is what had troubled the Danbury Baptists. Fully understanding their concerns, Jefferson replied to them on January 1, 1802, assuring them that they had nothing to fear — the government would not meddle with their religious expressions, whether they occurred in private or in public.
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CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION, NOR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF.
The very men who gave us the first amendment did not intend to create a radical separation of church and state that many advocate today. The day after Congress adopted the first amendment, they sent a message to George Washington. They asked him to declare a day of Thanksgiving to God.
Congress wanted to show America’s appreciation for the opportunity to create a new government in peace and tranquility.
The founders did not intend for God to be separate from our official acts. The founders just did not want a national denomination, such as in England.
They did not want an established church, an established church would take away religious liberty.
They did not want an established church that could force people to worship against their will or support it with private tax dollars.
Many say the founding fathers didn’t believe in God and weren’t Christian. They even go on to say that George Washington wasn’t a Christian and never went to church and never prayed.
This is completely wrong. In the early days of the United States, the whole of society centered around the local church. Most of the early pioneers attended church regularly or semi-regularly. Practically all our early schools were church sponsored, thus the children’s education was based on religion, as was George Washington.
Originally published at thefloridahoosier.com on March 24, 2016.