of Church and State has got to be one of the most popular phrases
that come up whenever people start talking about the church's
position in modern-day America. It is also probably one of the
most misunderstood concepts in our society. I'll give you an example
of what I mean:
When I graduated high
school in 1992, our graduation ceremony opened with a prayer from
a local minister. My parents, sitting in the stands watching,
were sitting behind a young lady when the prayer began. The young
lady leaned over to the person next to her and said, "Are
they allowed to do that? What about separation of church and state?"
Firstly, let me ask
you - do you know where the phrase "Separation of Church
and State" comes from? Is it in the Constitution? The Bill
of Rights? The Declaration of Independence? The answer is no,
to all of the above. In fact, it is in NO government document.
Surprised? Read on
The phrase "Separation
of Church and State" comes from a personal letter that Thomas
Jefferson wrote to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut
in 1802. The Danbury Baptists wrote Jefferson a letter expressing
their concerns about the government's position on free-exercise
of worship. Their position was that if free-exercise was granted
by the Constitution (making it an alienable right), rather than
a God-given (inalienable) right, the government could conceivably
take away that right. Jefferson assured them that free-exercise
of worship was a God-given, not Constitution-given, right. Here's
part of what he said in his response to them:
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."
As you can see, Jefferson
said that free exercise of worship is one of man's "natural
rights" (in other words, God-given). We can also see that
Jefferson expressed a sentiment that the Constitution helps restore
a man's natural rights, but that those natural rights are never
in opposition to his social duties. In other words, free exercise
of religion should never oppose proper society - so murder, terrorism,
human sacrifice, and other such atrocities in the name of religion
are not God-given rights. Jefferson was a pretty smart man who
apparently knew a lot about human nature.
There have been a growing
number of people in our society who have interpreted the idea
of Separation of Church and State to mean that the church can
do nothing publicly. In other words, we can't have public prayer,
prayer in schools, Bible studies in school, "In God We Trust"
on our money, "Under God" in our pledge, and the list
goes on and on. Nothing is further from the truth. Here's what
the First Amendment says about religion:
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting
the free exercise thereof"
So as you can see,
all the First Amendment says is that Congress may not make a law
that respects any religion, nor can they make a law that prohibits
the free exercise of any religion. That's it. Nothing more.
It doesn't say that
a Christian can't pray in school or hold a Bible study. In fact,
it says quite the opposite. Because prohibiting a Christian from
holding a Bible study in his school is prohibiting the free exercise
of religion. And as far as Jefferson's position was concerned,
as long as the student's Bible study doesn't interfere with his
social duties (i.e. his duty to study and not disrupt the normal
function of the school), it was perfectly within his God-given,
not Constitution-given, rights.
I recently had a conversation
with a person who said that "Separation of Church and State
goes both ways". In other words, it prohibits the State from
interfering with the Church, but also protects the State from
interference BY the church. Does it? Nope. Read it again. All
it does is prohibit Congress from respecting any religion, and
prohibits restriction of free-exercise. That's it. Nothing more.
But perhaps a greater question would be, "Why does government
need protecting from the church?" Honestly, what threat could
the church possibly pose to the government of the strongest nation
on Earth, especially when his God-given right to worship is not
in opposition to his social duties?
Of course, a "Separation"
that only exists in a personal letter is no separation at all.
The phrase "Separation of Church and State", while it
is a popular phrase, is not found in any government documents.
Therefore it has no official standing in law. But even if it did,
the whole context of Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists
was that worship was a God-given, natural right that could not
be refuted by our government. No where does Jefferson mention
a prohibition of public exercise of worship. In fact, here are
some other things he said:
"Among the most
inestimable of our blessings is that...of liberty to worship
our Creator in the way we think most agreeable to His will;
a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government
and yet proved by our experience to be its best support."
- Letter to Baptist Address, 1807
can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have
submitted to them." - Virginia, 1785
too, to our excellent Constitution, it ought to be observed,
that it has not placed our religious rights under the power
of any public functionary." - Letter to the Methodist Episcopal
Church of Pittsburg, 1808
of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed
by the constitution independent of the power of the federal
government. I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to
prescribe the religious exercises suited to it; but have left
them, as the constitution found them, under the direction of
state or church authorities acknowledged by the several religious
societies." - Jefferson's Second Inaugural Address, 1805
a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved.
I have considered it as a matter between every man and his Maker
in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle"
- Letter to Robert Rush, 1813
the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution
from intermeddling in religious institutions, their doctrines,
discipline, or exercises." - Letter to Samuel Miller, 1808
As you can clearly
see, Jefferson consistently told people that the federal government
had no place interfering with the church. But I can't seem to
find any instances where Jefferson was afraid of the church interfering
with government. If you look at the whole tone of the First Amendment
and Second Amendments (rights to free exercise, speech, assembly,
press, bearing arms, advocating militias), there is a repeating
theme of the rights of the people against government oppression.
And rightly so, for our founding fathers knew all about oppressive
government. That's why they founding our nation in the first place,
to escape oppressive government.
So this "wall
of Separation" between Church and State, which is not in
a government document, is indeed an important issue - especially
to this Christian Patriot. But as far as the law goes, the wall
is a one-way wall. It protects the Church from the State, not
the other way around.