Freedom of Religion in the United States – Episode 4 (full)
This is the story of Freedom of Religion in the United States and its subsequent assault and attempt at subjugation by the concept of “Separation of Church and State”
The fundamental right of Religious Freedom is embroiled in a struggle against the imposition of the concept of the Separation of Church and State. The latter concept as it was and is invoked in the conduct of our lives and in our societal affairs is a falsehood, a misrepresentation, that spread throughout the nation before the truth got its boots on, and is now regarded by most as a factual truth. Paradoxically, neither the term, nor the concept of “Separation of Church and State” appears in the U.S. Constitution. Yet, the overreaching, misguided and zealous invoking of the concept of Separation of Church and State as if it is the law of the land in our Constitution has effectively served to diminish the actual free exercise of religion specifically provided for in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
We left Episode 3 in the process of providing some facts that illustrated that the concept of Separation of Church and State was not incorporated in the U.S. Constitution and that it was antithetical to the philosophy of the founders. The concept was not even recorded as a consideration in the development of the First Amendment. To wit, the writings of the founding fathers endorse the linkage, the value and the necessity of religion within our government and our country and the term “separation of church and state”, was not mentioned in the Congressional Record of the discussions and debates held on the first amendment wording.
Now, continuing with bullet points that expose the myth of the requirement that there be separation of church and state, it is noted that:
- The term is never mentioned or used in the U. S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights or in Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.
The fact that it is not in the U.S. Constitution and is not in the Bill of Rights is foundational and has already been cited. This fact is included in this inventory of evidence for completeness, but the real point of significance is its’ absence in Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. This absence is noteworthy on two counts, (1) the Virginia Statute is regarded as a likely basis or springboard from which the First Amendment was formulated and (2) Jefferson’s later misconstrued association with invoking the concept.
- The term “separation of church and state” was ” a made up term”, not a quote, and was likely based on just a casual “literary” reference Jefferson used in a letter.
The source of the term “separation of church and state” was “contrived” from a letter written by President Jefferson’s in 1802, in response to the Danbury Baptist Association. The Baptist’s had written to Jefferson complaining of discrimination stemming from the “official” (or state) religion that existed in the state of Connecticut. The Association sought support for extension (to the state level) of the First Amendment concept of keeping government from interfering with the religious practices of the people. (Recall our earlier discussion that the First Amendment restrictions only applied to the Federal Government). Jefferson expressed moral support for the position of the Danbury Baptists. Giving that support was the reason behind Jefferson’s letter. His response was in conformance to the undeniable point that the intent of the first two clauses of the First Amendment was to put restrictions on the Federal Government from interference with an individual’s right to religious freedom. Keeping the government out of an individual’s religion was the “wall” Jefferson referred to that had been constructed by the First Amendment. That was the real meaning of his subsequently misapplied “wall of separation” statement in his 1802 response to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. Jefferson was only reiterating a government “hands off” religion policy – That is all!
The Danbury Baptist Association was a group of 26 Baptist churches in the Connecticut Valley who considered themselves persecuted by the legislature of the state of Connecticut that had established Congregationalism as its official state religion. Here is the full text of Jefferson’s response:
Letter to the Danbury Baptists
January 1, 1802 To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
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, & 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 & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & 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 & 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 & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
There are several important points to take from this letter relative to its future misapplication:
- As noted in the earlier discussion, the First Amendment (religion clauses) applied only to a restriction on the Federal Government. Individual states were not restricted by the first amendment from having an official state religion (as Connecticut did). This was consistent with the Constitution limiting the power of a central government and not interfering with state governments.
- The Association knew, and acknowledged in their letter to Jefferson that, “the president of the United States is not the national legislator,…”, but hoped that his views on religious liberty would “shine and prevail through all these states and all the world.” In other words they hoped that support by Jefferson would help the individual states move forward in adopting the principle embodied in the “establishment clause” of: “not establishing a state church”.
- Jefferson could not and did not provide any direct relief or solution to the Baptist’s concern but he did, as requested, express his support of religious liberty being granted in the individual states through his statement, “Adhering to this expression [establishment clause] 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 ….”. And this support may have helped, as Connecticut did “disestablish” Congregationalism as the official state church in 1818.
- Most importantly, with respect to the future misapplication and disingenuous use of Jefferson’s phrase by the Court 145 years later, “building a wall of separation”, in his letter supporting, and describing the First Amendment, is that the statement immediately follows, (in the same sentence), and is clearly made in reference to the restriction on the Federal Government from passing any law establishing a religion or prohibiting free exercise of religion. He is reiterating that the First Amendment is intended as a wall to keep the government out of religion. To illustrate, or describe the meaning and purpose of the First Amendment religious clauses he had just quoted, Jefferson could have said something like that the First Amendment “puts up a no trespassing sign”, in reference to the government, but probably, being well read and knowledgeable, was cleverly, alluding to Roger Williams’ (founder of the Baptist Church) earlier writings which stated: that there is: “[A] hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world”. Jefferson used the same “wall” metaphor to explain the purpose of the first amendment – simply substituting government or “state” for “wilderness of the world”.
- Jefferson did not make any specific references to or in any way suggest or imply that religion must be excluded from schools, or government or the “public square” in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. Nor did he do so in his very famous, “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom”, which preceded and is believed to have been the “model” for the first amendment religious clauses. Neither the concept of or the term “separation of church and state” appear in the Virginia Statute. That document, like the first two clauses of the First Amendment, disavows the concept of a state church and exalts the protection of free exercise of religion.
- Finally, Jefferson, as President, uses a brief prayer to conclude his letter. “I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.” Thus, in his official government capacity he was incorporating an association with religion in his response, which belies the later interpretations of separation.
The words, chosen by Jefferson in his letter to support the First Amendment concept of restriction on government interference, are just that, his chosen words. Note that Jefferson’s response to the Danbury Baptists did not engender any change, any debate, or any questioning of his intent or meaning at the time of its writing in 1802. That illustrates that his statements were viewed to be in conformance with the original intent and existing understanding of the meaning, interpretation and application of the First Amendment. Jefferson’s comments stood without challenge or question for more than a hundred years.
Finally, even if the “wall of separation” words were to be ascribed the “made-up” connotation of separation of church and state now given to them by the courts, those words and their erroneous interpretation do not represent law. They do not have the force of authority to override the meaning and intent of an Amendment passed by Congress and ratified by the states and duly followed for over 150 years. Those words should not have been used to warp, manipulate and expand the objective of the establishment clause so as to play a dominate role in our society, and completely reverse the intent of the freedom of exercise clause.
The great paradox and tragedy that stems from the misuse of Jefferson’s words is that the intended goal in the Bill of Rights of giving the people of the United States freedom to exercise their religion without government interference has now been eradicated and turned 180 degrees from the original intent. The delegates at the Constitution Convention sought to limit the powers of the Federal Government but now the Federal Government (and the dollars it doles out) permeates and to some extent controls every aspect of our lives. And now, by judicial fiat, there must be no hint of religion in anything that the Federal Government touches or is involved with – which includes schools, state governments, local governments, health care, etc.). Further the concept of excluding religion (such as school children singing Christmas Carols and communities putting up a nativity scene) has been invoked by periodic judicial rulings and have been publicized so as to make civic and public bodies run scared. These rulings typically made on behalf of atheist organizations are then spread further by fear, by threat and by media bias. Further, as a practical matter the “separation” or religion exclusion doctrine is primarily applied to Christianity – “political correctness” and selective “tolerance” gives a free pass to all other religions. The students in my grandson’s high school social studies class were directed to get down on the floor, face east and pray to Allah to demonstrate tolerance for Islam. And they did, save for my grandson. When he said that doing so was uncomfortable for him, the teacher called him a bigot and sent him out of the room and to the principal’s office. This state of affairs is 180 degrees from our founding fathers view of the world and makes a mockery of the First Amendment.
This concludes Episode 4 and our observation of the true intent Jefferson’s words. In a future Episode we will trace the ill-fated events that led to the demise of the religious liberty promised in the First Amendment. But, before examining these contrived, manipulative and ill intended actions we will, in Episode 5, gain some historical perspectives on the history of religion in the United States in the formative years of our country. Including the statements and rulings by the judiciary in the 100 plus years subsequent to the adoption of the First Amendment.
We will see that the United States is indeed a Christian nation and will describe the evolution of Christianity and other religions in the United States. This background will help illustrate and explain how dramatic and how paradoxical is the turn of events that now restricts the “free exercise of religion” and pursuit of happiness for Christians in our country. This background may also give context to the degree of animosity, vitriol and vengeance being pursued by atheists against Christianity.
Please join me for Episode 5 — Thanks, Larry Von Thun