Jefferson’s Letter and the Separation of Church and State Definition
The separation of Church and State definition is a wall we must strengthen and maintain. We certainly do not want a national religion. And we must strengthened the weakened freedom of speech concept. The freedom of speech includes the freedom of religious expression. The wall of separation of Church and State definition is between a national denomination set up by government and all other organized religions.
The separation of church and state definition has its founding in the concept of “free exercise of religion”. The words “separation of church and state” are not to be found in any founding documents. In a letter Jefferson wrote in1802 to the Danbury Baptists (1) he used 8 words which are often taken out of context. In a letter to Jefferson the Baptists were concerned about a rumor that his administration was going to establish a national religion.
“””Jefferson wrote back and said, “I contemplate with solemn 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, (2) thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” (1)
Jefferson relieved their concern by saying two things:
1. There would be no law to establish a national religion, and
2. There would be no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
These two points frame the context of his thought. In that context Jefferson then wrote a 10 word conclusion. He said, “, thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” The “wall” was understood as a barrier between the governments rumored National Religion and other denominations. Why have we come to distort Jefferson’s, the Founding Father’s thinking in general and the US Constitution in particular?
Separation of Church and State definition – The US Constitution, 1st Amendment
In his second inaugural address of 1805 Jefferson spoke to the separation of Church and State definition. Jefferson wrote that in the matters of the free exercise of religion as per the Constitution it is independent. Or, the free exercise of religion stands apart from the powers of the Federal government. (3
The words “separation of church and state” are not in the US Constitution. Free exercise of religion is the proper language used in the Constitution. When the Constitution was drawn, and for many generations thereafter, the meaning of how religion was to be handled was perfectly clear. Even for some today, the language of the Constitution is understood.
The separation of Church and State definition did not erect any wall between the expression of religion and the State in the first Presidency. Religion and its free expression was very evident when our 1st President took office. George Washington in his swearing in oath used the Bible to swear upon. To his oath he added a prayer, “So help me God.” Many other religious activities were an integral, if not an intimate, part of this first inauguration. This is also true of subsequent Presidents who followed President Washington. Religion was freely expressed. (3)
In the Constitution it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (4)
We are in deep trouble when we must go to great lengths to redefine what the word “is” means. When we cannot understand a simple sentence we are also in just as much of a problem. This is particularly true when it comes to understanding the plain language of the US Constitution.
Not only did the people find this statement clear to understand so did the courts. That changed in the 20th century. Over 6,000 court cases since 1962 have removed a number of religious freedoms once enjoyed. (5)
In light of what we have lost in the area of free religion expression it’s interesting to look at the Constitutions of each of the 50 States in America. Each Constitution make a positive reference to God.
Separation of Church and State definition – The Declaration of Independence
The separation of Church and State definition is not spoken of in the Declaration of Independence. Religion however is mentioned. There is no pronouncement of any denomination but there are a number of references to God. We may therefore conclude there to be no separation sought from the author, or from the delegation, between Church and State. Rather there would be no law to prohibit freedom to exercise ones religion of choice.
In this great document the following statement is made, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
A couple of brief points. One - Endowed means, given by. In this case rights, given by God. It is not a leap to think the word Jefferson used, “Creator”, means God. Before it was voted on there were some 86 changes made to this document. No one apparently objected to the word Creator as most believed God was their creator.
Two – Since God gave these rights they could not be taken away, by anyone. Since they are not given by man they cannot be taken away by man. It is God who gives us life itself. God gives us the right to liberty, freedom. Even God does not force Himself upon us. And God gives us the right to pursue happiness. These rights God gives. Therefore, they are inalienable – cannot be taken away.
One more salient point is the next sentence, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it …”. That is to say that we need to protect against tyranny.
Notice there is no separation from God in this document. In fact the references to God are obvious, intentional and accepted by the Congress in what is probably the most important document to the founding of America.
Separation of Church and State definition – The Statute of Virginia For Religious Freedom
In 1777 Jefferson wrote this document, an argument for the freedom of religious expression. The Statute speaks of the need of freedom from domination of uninspired men. It speaks to freedom from being forced to donate to causes in which they do not believe.
Jefferson here wrote, “That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry”.
He went on to argue that a man’s religious opinion should have no bearing on holding a government office or a punishment at work. No one should be forced to support a religion he does not wish to support.
The argument here is not to build a wall to separate the Church from the State. The argument is to allow for the free expression of religion anywhere and everywhere, including on State properties.
Separation of Church and State definition – What Are We Thinking –
Most of America believes there to be a wall between the church and the state. That was the furthest thing from the truth with our founders. Jefferson’s eight word statement is often taken out of context.
Today there is a resurgence for men and women to return to God and to virtuous morals. They are thinking that this is the only way to make America great again.
Article: Thomas Jefferson Gravestone
Video: Introduction to Article 1.17 minutes
Article: Thomas Jefferson Accomplishments
Video: Introduction to Article 1.12minutes
Video: Introduction to Article 1.11 minutes
Article: Separation of Church and State Definition – above
(1) Separation of Church and State Definition. “the free exercise of religion” – The “separation of church and state” phrase which they invoked, (The Supreme Court in the case Everson v. Board of Education, 1947) 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.
(2) US Constitution, 1st Amendment – see Cornell University Law School. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
(3) Congressman Randy Forbes, 1/23/2008 HRES 888 IH – Among many other meaningful statements are included 7 religious acts President Washington enacted in his Presidential inauguration.
(4) Separation of Church and State article at Wallbuilders
(5) From The Freeman, an article, The Wall of Separation Betweeen Church and State.
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