The BIG Lie: "Separation of Church and State" (Part 3)

Author: Andy Woods
Date Written: February 21, 2024
From the archive of
In the last two posts, we began a series on the "separation between church and state" supposedly found in the First Amendment. It is because of this phrase, which was first introduced into the fabric of our culture through errant Supreme Court decisions of the early 1960’s, that city councils are sued for placing manger scenes on the steps of city hall, public schools are prohibited from teaching scientific creationism alongside evolution, copies of the Ten Commandments are stricken from government walls, teacher-led prayer and Bible reading is prohibited in public schools, and Christianity has generally been purged from public life.   When did all of this insanity begin? We noted that we can trace the origin of the modern understanding and application of separation between church and state to the following two Supreme Court decisions of the early 1960’s: Engle v. Vitale and School District of Abington Township v. Schempp.  Yet, an honest appraisal of these decisions shows them to be out of harmony with the vision of the Constitution’s authors. The founders would have been horrified at the prospect of removing the influence of Christianity from the functioning of public schools and government. The purpose of this new series of articles is to show how out-of-step these decisions are with the express wishes of America’s founding fathers. This purpose will be accomplished through a consideration of nine historical and legal facts. In our last post, we observed that the words “separation between church and state” never appear in the actual wording of the First Amendment. The so called separation between church and state terminology was not part of America's foundation and never even breathed in America's legal history until after most of our nation's history had already transpired. We now move on to our second point.


Second, the Engle and Schempp courts assumed that Jefferson’s 1802 letter, which first articulated a “wall of separation of church and state,” was intended to prohibit the practice of Christian principles in government. However, this historical analysis is suspect for several reasons. For example, Jefferson was not opposed to religious practices in the public square. As President, Jefferson supported and signed into law a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians that provided a stipend from the national treasury to support a missionary to minister to the Kaskaskia Indians. [See Robert L. Cord, Separation of Church and State: Historical Fact and Current Fiction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 38-39.] According to historian Stephen Mansfield, “It was Jefferson, after all, who approved funds for evangelizing Native Americans. It was Jefferson who attended church on federal property for most of his administration, approved still other churches on federal property, and even ordered the marine band to play in his church.” (See Mansfield, Ten Tortured Words: How the Founding Fathers Tried to Protect Religion in America...And What Has Happened Since, 65).
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
It becomes obvious that Jefferson never intended for God to be banned from the institution of government simply by reading the Declaration of Independence that he authored just a few years earlier in 1776. This founding document contains the following religious phrases: “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,” “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions,” and “with firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” [While Jefferson authored most of these phrases, Adams inserted the final two later on with the approval of Congress. See Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1977), 307]. Interestingly, some have noted the overt way this charter expresses dependence upon God and have thus referred to it as the Declaration of Dependence rather than the Declaration of Independence. Did Jefferson suddenly believe that the 1776 Declaration of Independence itself had become unconstitutional by the time he spoke of a wall of separation between church and state in 1802? Such an explanation strains all credulity to the breaking point. Furthermore, in the last post we noted that the “separation between church and state” language does not appear in the First Amendment itself but rather actually comes from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. This 1802 letter, which the Everson, Engle, and Schempp courts cited to prove that Jefferson advocated “a wall of separation between church and state,” is taken out of context. In writing to the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson used this expression to assure them that the federal government would not interfere with their private free exercise of religion. The letter had nothing to do with government sponsored religious activity. In other words, Jefferson used the phrase “wall of separation of church and state” as a one-way wall. The wall prevented the government from interfering with Christianity rather than preventing Christianity from influencing government. [See LaHaye, Faith of Our Founding Fathers, 61-62; Eidesmoe, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers, 243-44; Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 267; Cord, Separation of Church and State, 45]. Here is what Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists actually says:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between a man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; and that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with solemn reverence the 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 and State (italics added). ((Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 16:281-82, in a letter from Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association on January 1, 1802.))
Thus far in our series we have learned that not only is the phrase "separation between church and state" not part of the First Amendment, but when this phrase was applied by Jefferson to the First Amendment in an 1802 private correspondence, which was written over a decade after the Constitution was completed, Jefferson's remarks were only aimed at the First Amendment's "free exercise clause" rather than its "establishment clause."  

(To Be Continued...)

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