Worship Notes

Thoughts From A Christian Patriot:
Part 1 - Separation of Church and State

Separation 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:

"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."

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:

"Congress shall 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

"Our rulers can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them." - Virginia, 1785

"In justice, 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

"In matters 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

"Religion is 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

"I consider 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.