Search This Blog

Friday, October 14, 2011

Is the phrase seperation of church and state in the US Constitution?

Nope. No one who accepts the idea ever says that it is. So, if the words are not in the Constitution, then that means that there is no separation, correct? Um, wrong, of course there is a separation.
The specific words do not have to be there in order for the idea or concept to exist in the document. As an example, consider the concept of the Trinity as it is accepted in the Christian religion. No where in the bible is the word Trinity ever written. According to the standards that many want to apply to the Constitution, if the exact words are not used, then it does not exist. However, I doubt there are many Christians who do not accept that the Trinity is a real concept. How is that possible if the word does not appear in the Bible? As Christians are so fond of parroting, it is context, context, context. If the idea or meaning is in the document, it is understood to exist.

With that example to refer to, let us take a look at what is actually written. The First Amendment to the Constitution says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." This gets broken down into two areas. The first is the Establishment Clause, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.". Thomas Jefferson made sure the intent of this clause was well understood with his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. In this letter he stated very clearly that there was a "wall of separation between church and state," which led to the expression "Separation of church and state."

The second part of the amendment, the Free Exercise Clause", is what the Christians try to hang their hat on in regards to be allowed to do anything in regards to their religion. However, the courts have generally ruled that while most individual religious exercise is allowed, this does not prohibit the government from passing laws that impact certain religious practices. The first case to examine this clause was Reynolds v. United States. This was a case dealing with the prosecution of a polygamist. He tried to argue protection under the Free Exercise Clause, but the court ruled against him.

We have one of founders of the country who is providing an explanation of what the intent of the First Amendment is. Do other government agencies agree with him? Not surprisingly, yes. Jefferson's Danbury letter has been cited favorably by the Supreme Court many times. In its 1879 Reynolds v. U.S. decision the high court said Jefferson's observations "may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment."

But I can already hear the protests. Jefferson is just one of the founders. That is true. However, others agreed with him.

From James Madison:

Here [in the Virginia statute for religious liberty] the separation between the authority of human laws, and the natural rights of Man excepted from the grant on which all authority is founded, is traced as distinctly as words can admit, and the limits to this authority established with as much solemnity as the forms of legislation can express. The law has the further advantage of having been the result of a formal appeal to the sense of the Community and a deliberate sanction of a vast majority, comprizing [sic] every sect of Christians in the State. This act is a true standard of Religious liberty; its principle the great barrier agst [against] usurpations on the rights of conscience. As long as it is respected & no longer, these will be safe. Every provision for them short of this principle, will be found to leave crevices, at least thro' which bigotry may introduce persecution; a monster, that feeding & thriving on its own venom, gradually swells to a size and strength overwhelming all laws divine & human. (James Madison, "Monopolies. Perpetuities. Corporations. Ecclesiastical Endowments," as reprinted in Elizabeth Fleet, "Madison's Detatched Memoranda," William & Mary Quarterly, Third series: Vol. III, No. 4 [October, 1946], pp. 554-555. The "Detatched Memoranda" is a manuscript, written sometime after Madison left office in 1817, in Madison's own hand, with notes he made in preparation for the arrangement and publication of his public papers, a task he did not complete before his death in 1836.)

Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history. (See the cases in which negatives were put by J. M. on two bills passd by Congs and his signature withheld from another. See also attempt in Kentucky for example, where it was proposed to exempt Houses of Worship from taxes. (James Madison, "Monopolies. Perpetuities. Corporations. Ecclesiastical Endowments," as reprinted in Elizabeth Fleet, "Madison's Detatched Memoranda," William & Mary Quarterly, Third series: Vol. III, No. 4 [October, 1946], p. 555. The parenthetical note at the end, which lacks a closed parenthesis in Fleet, was apparently a note Madison made to himself regarding examples of improper encroachment to use when the "Detatched Memoranda" were edited and published, and seems to imply clearly that Madison supported taxing churches. )

The only ultimate protection for religious liberty in a country like ours, Madison pointed out--echoing Jefferson;--is public opinion: a firm and pervading opinion that the First Amendment works. "Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance." (Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, p. 56. Madison's words, according to Gaustad, are from his letter of 10 July 1822 to Edward Livingston.)

From George Washington:
The following year [1784], when asking Tench Tilghman to secure a carpenter and a bricklayer for his Mount Vernon estate, he [Washington] remarked: "If they are good workmen, they may be of Asia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists." As he told a Mennonite minister who sought refuge in the United States after the Revolution: "I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable Asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong...." He was, as John Bell pointed out in 1779, "a total stranger to religious prejudices, which have so often excited Christians of one denomination to cut the throats of those of another." (Paul F. Boller, George Washington & Religion, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963, p. 118. According to Boller, Washington wrote his remarks to Tilghman in a letter dated March 24, 1784; his remarks to the Mennonite--Francis Adrian Van der Kemp--were in a letter dated May 28, 1788.)
Government being, among other purposes, instituted to protect the consciences of men from oppression, it is certainly the duty of Rulers, not only to abstain from it themselves, but according to their stations, to prevent it in others. (George Washington, letter to the Religious Society called the Quakers, September 28, 1789. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 500.)

From John Adams:

The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.... (John Adams, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" [1787-1788]; from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society, New York: George Braziller, 1965, p. 258.)

Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind. (John Adams, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" [1787-1788]; from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society, New York: George Braziller, 1965, p. 258.)

From Benjamin Franklin:

I am fully of your Opinion respecting religious Tests; but, tho' the People of Massachusetts have not in their new Constitution kept quite clear of them, yet, if we consider what that People were 100 Years ago, we must allow they have gone great Lengths in Liberality of Sentiment on religious Subjects; and we may hope for greater Degrees of Perfection, when their Constitution, some years hence, shall be revised. If Christian Preachers had continued to teach as Christ and his Apostles did, without Salaries, and as the Quakers now do, I imagine Tests would never have existed; for I think they were invented, not so much to secure Religion itself, as the Emoluments of it. When a Religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its Professors are obliged to call for help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one. (Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790, American statesman, diplomat, scientist, and printer, from a letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780; from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society, New York: George Braziller, 1965, p. 93.)

And, of course, there are so many references from some of the other founders who immediately wrote an opposing viewpoint once Jefferson expressed his opinion, right? Please list the comments from one of the other founders who disagreed with what Jefferson wrote. You will not find an opposing viewpoint, because the other founders did not disagree with him.

Consider this following quote and how America offers more religious freedom than any other country in the world.

"The constitutional principle of separation of church and state has given Americans more religious freedom than any people in world history. Around the globe, those suffering under the heavy heel of government-sponsored religious oppression look to America's church-state model with longing. The "wall of separation between church and state" is America's bulwark of true religious liberty."

-Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

No comments:

Post a Comment