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Seperation of Church and State - History

Seperation of Church and State - History

Separation of church and state - idea that the government and religion should be separate, and not interfere in each other's affairs. In the United States, this idea is based on the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which states that the government cannot make any laws to establish a state religion or prohibit the free exercise of religion.

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There are any number of important legal concepts which do not appear in the Constitution with the exact phrasing people tend to use. For example, nowhere in the Constitution will you find words like "right to privacy" or even "right to a fair trial." Does this mean that no American citizen has a right to privacy or a fair trial? Does this mean that no judge should ever invoke these rights when reaching a decision?

Of course not — the absence of these specific words does not mean that there is also an absence of these ideas. The right to a fair trial, for example, is necessitated by what is in the text because what we do find simply makes no moral or legal sense otherwise.

What the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution actually says is:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation to be confronted with the witnesses against him to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

There is nothing there about a "fair trial," but what should be clear is that this Amendment is setting up the conditions for fair trials: public, speedy, impartial juries, information about the crimes and laws, etc.

The Constitution does not specifically say that you have a right to a fair trial, but the rights created only make sense on the premise that a right to a fair trial exists. Thus, if the government found a way to fulfill all of the above obligations while also making a trial unfair, the courts would hold those actions to be unconstitutional.


The Separation of Church and State Is Rooted in American Christianity

Johann Neem is associate professor of history at Western Washington University and a writer for History News Service. He is author of “Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts” (Harvard University Press, 2008). Attribution to the History News Service and the author is required for reprinting and redistribution of this article.

Many Americans are worried that America’s Christian heritage is being threatened. Even if the threat is more perceptual than actual, it has mobilized important religious leaders and politicians to question the separation of church and state. Indeed, many conservatives construe efforts to separate church and state as an attack on America’s Christian majority. Many liberals, on the other hand, treat the separation of church and state as solely a political issue, a way to protect the state from religious influence.

What is lost in both perspectives is that the separation of church and state served more than political ends. One of the main reasons Americans after the Revolution separated church from state was precisely because they were Christian. In challenging the separation of church and state today, many American Christians are threatening America’s Christian heritage.

There are many reasons why Americans after the Revolution sought to prevent alliances between church and state. For the founders and many ministers, alliances between church and state corrupted both institutions. The state risked becoming subject to religious controversies that would threaten its ability to protect individual liberty. Equally important, many Protestants viewed church-state alliances as a way to offer a particular sect—such as Congregationalists in New England—special privileges, rather than to permit various denominations to practice their religion peaceably.

There were also theological reasons to separate church from state. To early Americans, Protestant Christianity was premised on a personal relationship with God. Making the state an intermediary would destroy that close relationship. As Christians, they worried that the state or the established church would speak in God’s name and could mobilize the force of law to enforce religious creeds. Moreover, established churches risked becoming tools of the state rather than of salvation, favoring the affairs of this world over the next world. The principle behind religious freedom was always to ensure that individuals could follow the dictates of their own conscience. To impose belief was to threaten the essence of Protestantism.

Colonial and Revolutionary-era America was also pluralistic. Despite the existence of state-supported churches in New England and the South, every colony had multiple denominations. In Pennsylvania and New York, religious diversity made it politically impossible to favor a particular denomination. After the Revolution, efforts to impose a particular confession in a diverse society seemed to violate the rights and liberties that the Revolution had promised all Americans. In New England, where public opinion was strongest for tax-supported religion, pluralism convinced these states to disestablish their churches—in 1818 in Connecticut, 1819 in New Hampshire, and 1833 in Massachusetts.

But it was not just pluralism that led to disestablishment. In Massachusetts, for example, the most conservative Congregational ministers sought to separate church from state because, increasingly, they believed that the right of a religious community to set the terms for membership trumped the benefits of tax support. With tax support came the obligation to serve all members of the community and to accept the decisions of the majority. The result, according to one minister in 1828, was to enslave the church to a “civil master.”

In the Revolutionary era the lessons of history, the ideals of the Revolution, the principles of Protestantism, and the reality of pluralism convinced Americans that the Christian religion would be better secured by separating church from state. By denying or forgetting the Christian roots of the separation of church and state, Americans risk rejecting one of the great foundations of both American liberty and American Christianity.

Revolutionary-era Americans understood that the state could not interfere with the dictates of conscience without becoming tyrannical, a lesson we might learn today by looking at religious politics around the world. By upholding the separation of church and state, on the other hand, we can affirm both our political and our religious heritage.

This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.


The Real Meaning of the Separation of Church and State

W e are told that one should avoid discussing two things at the dinner table: religion and politics. Clearly they have never eaten at our dinner tables. Religion and politics can be polarizing, precisely because they deal with important matters that are deeply personal and close to our passions. But these discussions do not have to be polarizing or combative. Intolerance of another person&rsquos faith is a personal choice, not a legal requirement.

We are also told that we &ldquoshould not mix religion and politics.&rdquo Again, this saying has a powerful truth: that when religion is used for political purposes, it empties religion of its eternal meaning and becomes just one more cynical method of acquiring power.

But there is also a disclaimer hidden in that phrase: that sometimes when people say &ldquoDon&rsquot mix religion and politics,&rdquo they actually mean &ldquoDon&rsquot bring your faith into the public square where I can see it.&rdquo In other words, hide your faith outside of your place of worship because we have a &ldquoseparation of church and state.&rdquo Separation of church and state is too important a concept to be misused &mdash especially not as a tool for silencing opposing views. As a matter of fact, on National Religious Freedom Day, it just might be as important as ever to consider the true meaning of church/state separation and religious freedom.

Congress&rsquos 1992 resolution that made Jan. 16 as Religious Freedom Day &mdash a designation reaffirmed by every President since &mdash was based on the anniversary of the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, originally authored by Thomas Jefferson. This act inspired and shaped the guarantees of religious liberty eventually found in the First Amendment.

The text of the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom gives great insight into our nation&rsquos First Amendment right. It reads: &ldquo&hellip no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced &hellip in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.&rdquo

In short, the act affirmed what we should recognize in every era: the right to practice any faith, or to have no faith, is a foundational freedom for all Americans. This right is also behind what Jefferson meant when he spoke of a &ldquowall of separation&rdquo between the church and the state.

Jefferson&rsquos famous phrase came in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. The Baptists were worried about the freedom to practice their faith, writing to Jefferson that &ldquowhat religious privileges we enjoy, we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights,&rdquo which is &ldquoinconsistent with the rights of freemen.&rdquo

Jefferson wrote back that religious liberty, free from state tampering, would be a key part of the American vision. The Constitution, he wrote, would &ldquorestore to man all his natural rights.&rdquo In this same letter, Jefferson explained the intent of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This, he said, built a &ldquowall of separation of church and state.&rdquo

Jefferson was not suggesting that religious people or religious motivations should be exiled from public debate. As a matter of fact, the letter was from a religious people appealing to an elected official for their rights &mdash an elected official who, by the way, attended church services during his administration inside the United States Capitol.

In its day, a constitutional prohibition that the state would not establish or restrain personal faith was truly revolutionary. Sadly, in many countries today, religious freedom is still revolutionary. America has the obligation to live this truth and demonstrate the depth of this powerful human right.

Unlike many places in the world, our government is not prohibited from referencing or accommodating religion, nor is the government compelled to scrub all religious references from the public square. Rather, the First Amendment ensures both that the government does not show preference to a certain religion and that the government does not take away an individual&rsquos ability to exercise religion. In other words, the church should not rule over the state, and the state cannot rule over the church. Religion is too important to be a government program or a political pageant.

Thankfully, the Courts have affirmed this time and time again.

In 2014, the Supreme Court held in Town of Greece v. Galloway that &ldquoit is an elemental First Amendment principle that government may not coerce its citizens to support or participate in any religion or its exercise.&rdquo

In the recent Trinity Lutheran case, the Court held &ldquothat denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion&hellip The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.&rdquo

These cases not only explain the religion clauses of the First Amendment, but they also affirm the separation of church and state. In Town of Greece, the Court was clear that the government cannot coerce someone to participate in a particular religion, but it also should not attempt to restrict all acts of faith from the public square. The concept of a &ldquoseparation of church and state&rdquo reinforces the legal right of a free people to freely live their faith, even in public without fear of government coercion. Free exercise means you may have a faith and you may live it.

Before he died, Thomas Jefferson left instructions that in his grave&rsquos epitaph, he wished to be remembered for three things &mdash one of them being the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. On Religious Freedom Day, we should do just that, look back with gratitude for a nation that guarantees a free church in a free state. Separation of church and state doesn&rsquot shut down our debates over religion in the public square it guarantees the freedom for us to respectfully have those debates. Faith is worth talking about in many places in American culture and, yes, maybe even at the dinner table.

The original version of this story misstated the year in which Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. It was 1802, not 1801.


Seperation of Church and State - History

Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded in 1947 by a broad coalition of religious, educational and civic leaders.

At that time, proposals were pending in the U.S. Congress to extend government aid to private religious schools. Many Americans opposed this idea, insisting that government support for religious education would violate church-state separation. The decision was made to form a national organization to promote this point of view and defend the separation principle.

AU’s leaders wanted a group with a nationwide focus that would be active on several fronts. The organization worked to educate members of Congress, as well as state and local lawmakers, about the importance of maintaining church-state separation. At the same time, state and local chapters of Americans United were formed, and the organization began publishing Church & State magazine and other materials in support of church-state separation to educate members of the general public. These activities continue today and form the core of AU’s operations.

As the years went by, Americans United tackled new issues as they emerged. In 1962 and ’63, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down landmark rulings striking down government-sponsored prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Calls soon began emanating from Congress to amend the Constitution to protect the “right to pray in school.” But AU defended the rulings, pointing out that no branch of government has the right to compel children to take part in religious worship and that truly voluntary student prayer remained legal.

In the late 1970s, the Religious Right began its rise as a political force, and Americans United responded. Throughout the 1980s, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and other allied groups unleashed a torrent of attacks on church-state separation and assailed the principle in the halls of Congress and the federal courts. They also targeted public schools for “takeover” campaigns, attempting to saturate the curriculum with fundamentalist theology.

At the same time, “education choice” advocates began demanding tax subsidies for religious education through vouchers, tuition tax credits and other avenues. Americans United rallied the opposition to these schemes and helped secure a string of court victories that turned back the Religious Right and their pro-voucher allies. AU also organized Americans to speak out against the extreme and intolerant agenda of the Religious Right.

In the 1990s, Religious Right forces regrouped under TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition. This organization focused heavily on local politics, playing special attention to public school boards. Its supporters brazenly demanded an end to public education and the “Christianization” of politics. Through a series of in-depth reports and by working with the nation’s media, Americans United exposed the radical agenda of the Christian Coalition.

The rise of other Religious Right organizations such as Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and the Alliance Defense Fund has kept AU busy in recent years. At the same time, the organization continues to oppose misguided voucher initiatives in the states and seeks to block so-called “faith-based” initiatives in the federal government and in the states.

Americans United believes that all Americans have the constitutional right to practice the religion of their choice (or refrain from taking part in religion) as individual conscience dictates. The government must remain neutral on religious questions. This has been a guiding principle of AU since the organization was founded.

Today, Americans United is based in Washington, D.C. with a professional staff of nearly 40 full-time employees. Americans of all religious and philosophical backgrounds have joined forces under the Americans United banner to defend the separation of church and state.

AU’s current executive director, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, is a United Church of Christ minister as well as an attorney long active on behalf of civil liberties. Through the years, many members of the clergy have been involved in the work of Americans United. However, AU is officially a non-sectarian and non-partisan organization. Americans United is happy to work with Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Humanists and those who profess other religious beliefs or no belief. We welcome Democrats, Republicans, Independents and those of other political affiliations who share our belief in religious liberty.

Americans United celebrates the rich religious and philosophical diversity of the United States and seeks a nation where all people may peacefully pursue the truth as their consciences dictate.

Our work is more important than ever and we need your help—donate to Americans United today.

“Americans United for Separation of Church and State,” “Americans United” and “Church & State” are registered trademarks of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.


Seperation of Church and State - History

With the advent of cold weather, the fires of religious controversy may be expected once again to blaze up cheerily. They die down during the summer, quite understandably for—to paraphrase a famous saying—misery were it, in those scorching days, to be alive, but to be in controversy were very hell. However, as autumn wears on to winter, a man can catch his breath, and perhaps use a bit of it to blow up some of the dying embers.

The chief embers already brightly glowing are, of course, those of the old "separation of Church and State" issue. They were blown up most recently (and with reckless success) in Wisconsin, in the debate over bus transportation for parochial-school children. And dozens of articles and speeches will make the blaze hotter and hotter. I think, however, that what the whole controversy needs is a lot more light, rather than more heat.

I hear it said, of course, that we Catholics cause confusion and dismay to our Protestant brethren by our stand on religious liberty. But my initial and frank reply is that we are not the prime cause of the confusion. As a matter of fact, the Protestant mind is itself natively confused, endemically unclear in this whole matter. Evidence of the fact may readily be gathered by going through the theoretical part of Dr. Bates's recent book, Religious Liberty: An Inquiry. The confusion of thought that pervades the whole book grows almost riotous, when the author takes up the nature and grounds of religious liberty. He does indeed make it obvious that Protestants are most terrifically in moral earnest over the so-called "principle of separation of Church and State," but he fails rather signally to explain what kind of "principle" it is, and what it rests on, demands, implies or excludes.

Similar confusions appear in contemporary discussions of the first clause in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." These words, it is said, embody the "principle of separation of Church and State." Then the confusion begins. Imperceptibly it is assumed that the First Amendment is a theological document—a sort of dogmatic decree that lays down a rule of faith. Thereafter it suddenly appears that the First Amendment implicitly "establishes," as the obligatory belief of the American people, the doctrine that all churches are simply voluntary societies, of equally human origin and of equal value in the sight of God, each of them offering to man an equally good way to eternal salvation. In other words, it appears that the First Amendment canonizes Liberal Protestant ecclesiology in an extreme form, and anathematizes as un-American all dissenters. From this premise, it is possible to condemn Catholicism as an alien thing, a heresy from the "democratic faith," because it denies the equality of all religions before God, and even denies that all religions must, of intrinsic necessity and in all circumstances, be declared equal before the constitutional law of every land. It is further possible to accuse Catholics of supporting the First Amendment only "in practice" (on grounds of expediency) and not "in principle" (on grounds of conviction) the reason, of course, is that Catholics deny in principle the ecclesiology supposedly contained in the First Amendment.

This whole line of thought is ordinarily not put as baldly as I have put it but one detects its presence. And it gets the whole controversy off to a bad start. It makes the First Amendment do the very thing that Congress is forbidden by the First Amendment to do, namely, to play the theologian and promulgate articles of faith.

We should, therefore, make some advance toward clarity if we could all agree to take the First Amendment exactly for what it is—not a theological, but a political document. It does not define a concept of the Church but a concept of the State. Fundamentally, the First Amendment asserts that political sovereignty is limited by the rights of conscience inherent in man. It has simply an ethical and a political content. Its ethical content is the doctrine that religious conscience is immune from governmental coercion. And its political content is the assertion that the rights of conscience will be most securely protected and the political ends of the American State most effectively furthered by guaranteeing the equality of all religious consciences (and, by implication, of all religious bodies) before the law. It cannot be too much emphasized that the religious liberty proclaimed by the First Amendment is not a piece of religious mysticism, but a practical political principle, ethically grounded on the obligations of the State to the consciences of its citizens and to its own end—social harmony, prosperity and peace. One can indeed cast up a theology of religious liberty, but one may not legitimately read it into the First Amendment.

It is historically evident that the First Amendment had a factual premise—the religio-social situation in the nascent republic. All Americans were members of the one political community, but not all were members of the one religious community. This fact put a problem to government in fact, governments all over Europe had been wrestling with it for more than a century. But they were hampered in their efforts by the stubborn perdurance of the medieval "one-society" theory. This theory held that religious unity was essentially constitutive of social unity, and that community of faith was integral to the common temporal good in consequence, it held that the state was charged with the preservation of religious unity, as the price of its own preservation, and that dissenters from the official faith could be only "second-class" citizens.

In its essence this theory was simply political, not theological. It was in no wise part of the Christian faith. But at the end of the eighteenth century it was still the common property of both Catholics and Protestants. In colonial Virginia, for instance, baptism into the Anglican Church was regarded as a compulsory initiation into citizenship, and support of the Establishment was a duty.

It is a tribute to American political genius that this theory was finally buried, unwept, in American soil. And its death was accomplished, so far as the national government was concerned, by the First Amendment. Historical experience, in the Colonies as in Europe, had demonstrated that the attempt to create or restore religious unity by governmental coercion of 'dissenters was the highest political unwisdom. It defeated its own goal—social unity—by introducing religious divisions into social life, and thus making them all the more bitter. Consequently, there was put into the First Amendment a prohibition against the use of government authority to create an official American faith and enforce adherence to it as the bond of national unity. The national political community was to achieve its own proper unity, on a political level in order to do so, it was to remain "separate" from the religious community with all its inner divisions. In turn, the religious community, so far as government was concerned, was to be free to be divided but to this end, it had to remain "separate" from the united political community, and not let its own divisions disrupt the sphere of civic life. In the circumstances, this "separation" was the only way to social peace.

It was, therefore, initially in the name of the state's own end that the First Amendment uttered its prohibition against a State Church and against state interference with the rights of conscience. Religious liberty was rightly regarded as functional to a particular political order and its unity. In this sense, therefore, the so-called "principle of separation of Church and State" appears as a political principle for it is related to a political end.

However, the legitimate and necessary political pragmatism of the First Amendment rests, at a more profound level, on absolute and sound ethical doctrine. The First Amendment does more than recognize, as its factual basis, the religious pluralism existent in American society as its essential ethical basis, it recognizes the dualism inherent in man himself. Every individual is a civic person, a member of organized society, subject to the authority of its government, ordained to its earthly end. And every individual is likewise a religious person, a creature of God, subject to the authority of conscience, and ordained to an end transcending time. This dualism is inherent in the very nature of man. And every man has the right to have his nature respected for what it is. As citizens of a state, therefore, all men, whatever their religion, have the right to be equal in their civic liberties and in the freedom of their access to all the benefits of organized society. As religious men, all citizens have equal right, as against the state, to follow in every rational way the will of God as it is known to them through conscience.

The First Amendment recognizes this dual set of rights, as flowing from man's dual capacity. Consequently,' it forbids government so, to legislate as to establish distinctions in citizenship on grounds of religious belief a man's religion cannot be made a civic asset or liability. Similarly, government is forbidden so to legislate as to coerce religious conformity as the condition of civic equality a man's civic status cannot be made to depend on his religion. The civic person and the religious person are to be "separate" in law as they are distinct in nature.

This distinction between the citizen and the believer is the basic ethical content of the First Amendment at bottom, it is the principle of the First Amendment. In its essential political consequences, valid in all social con-texts, it means the limitation of governmental authority to the area of civic life, and the immunity of the religious conscience from all coercive pressures exerted by any agency of government. And in its further necessary consequences in the American scene, given the religious pluralism of our society, it means constitutional equality for all religious beliefs and for all the religious bodies in which they are held. It is the fact of the pluralism that induces the necessity of the equality were there only one faith, the problem of equality would simply not arise.

However, in the U.S. there are a dozen major faiths, as well as hundreds of smaller sects. All are faiths held by those who are equally American citizens, and who are not to suffer inequalities in their citizenship by reason of their faith. In the face of this situation, there is no other course open to government than to regard the faiths of those who are equally its citizens as faiths equal in its eyes. Were it to do otherwise, it would instantly confuse religion with citizenship, bring religious consciences somehow under pressure, and thus violate the essential principle enshrined in the First Amendment.

In terms such as these one should construct an explanation of the First Amendment that would be properly devoid of all illegitimate theologizing or false mysticism about freedom of religion. What one should basically say is that the United States, by virtue of the First Amendment, is a "lay" state, in a unique and American sense of the term. And one should add that it is a "lay" state in consequence of ethical principle, and in the light of the factual American situation, and for the sake of its own end. It retains proper authority over the lay life of its citizens—their life as citizens but it has no authority over their religious lives. It may not pretend to be a theologian, or a prophet of the way to eternal salvation. In Madison's phrase, it is "not a competent judge of religious truths," and it has no power to enforce their acceptance. As a layman in matters of religion, the Amer-

ican state respects the religious authority inherent in the consciences of its citizens. The authorities conflict but the state stands outside their conflict. It cannot silence any particular religious utterance, because it is the utterance of one of its citizens on the other hand, it cannot espouse any religious utterance, because it is the utterance of only one of its citizens.

Nevertheless, it does not profess itself to be atheist or even agnostic. As a matter of fact, it professes neither knowledge nor ignorance in religious matters it simply maintains reverence for knowledge or ignorance as these are present in its citizens. It does not deny or doubt that there is a religious authority it simply denies that it is itself a religious authority. And for this reason it respects whatever religious authority is accepted by any of those whose temporal good it serves. Its single aim is to serve them all impartially, regardless of their religion. In this peculiarly American sense, the United States is a "lay" or "secular" state, and therefore "separate" from the Church though in certain public acts it honors God.

One could possibly say, therefore, that the First Amendment embodies the "principle of separation of Church and State." But the formula is bad in itself and misleading in its connotations. At least, one should be careful to add that this "principle" is realized in the United States in a peculiarly American form, in consequence of a natively American and entirely valid theory of religious liberty. That is why Catholics support it, not only in practice (as expedient for themselves) but in principle (as sound in itself). When they opposed, and oppose, "separation of Church and State" elsewhere, they opposed and oppose something quite different in principle—a "lay" state predicated on atheistic or agnostic principles, militantly aggressive in its opposition to religion, and deliberately contemptuous of the religious realities of an historic situation. Fortunately, in America, when Americans are called on to support "in principle" the First Amendment, they are not called on to support the principles of Deism, or absolute rationalism, or Liberal Protestantism. The First Amendment itself forbids that such a demand be made on them. It forbids, too, its own interpretation in such sectarian categories. In itself, it simply puts forward a political solution to the political problem put by the existence of many religions within one political community. The solution is based on sound ethical principle. And Catholics support it to the hilt, "in principle." They have, it is true, their own theology of religious liberty so do Protestants. But neither Catholic nor Protestant theology is written into the First Amendment. If we could all get that much clear, it would be a great gain.

It would be a great gain, too, if it were agreed to drop the deceptive formula, "separation of Church and State." It is not an American coinage. Its origins were Continental it was the shibboleth of the bitterly anti-religious factions in the Europe of the nineteenth century. And its currency in America has been given it both by secularists who want American society free from religion, and by Protestants who desire to make use of the overtones of religious prejudice attached to the formula. The confused polemist can, of course, make use of the formula to great effect: "Catholics support separation of Church and State in the United States they oppose it in Spain. You see, therefore, what unprincipled power-politicians they are they act solely on immoral grounds of expediency." The argument has gone over in a big way of late in the United States the confused polemists have popularized their confusion with great success. But the whole success has been due to the ambiguity of the slogan, "separation of Church and State."

It is rather time to end the ambiguity, and kill all the false issues it raises. Why not drop the slogan? Admittedly less appeal would be made to latent bigotry if one were to say that the First Amendment embodies the principle of the "lay" state, in a peculiarly American realization of that institution and if one were then to go on to explain, historically and philosophically, the principles in the name of which the American state is "lay." However, that is the truth. And I should not like to think that our fair-minded Protestant friends use the slogan, "separation of Church and State," because of its appeal to the bigoted.


It stems from Thomas Jefferson&rsquos use of the phrase &ldquowall of separation between Church and State𔏁&rdquo as he tries to explain the First Amendment religion clauses to the Danbury Baptist Association in a letter:

Jefferson wrote:
&ldquoI contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should &lsquomake no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,&rsquo thus building a wall of separation between church and State.(1)"

The first time the Supreme Court cited the phrase, &ldquoWall of separation between church and state&rdquo was in 1947 in the case Everson versus Board of Education of Ewing (2). Since this term did not exist in the congressional records they used it from the private letter of Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association quoted above. Subsequently the Supreme Court ruled that a wall of separation between church and state exists based on that personal letter rather then the constitution

As a result, the Supreme Court created an erroneous precedent, ruling that law could be created from a personal letter instead of the Constitution. Even if a letter was considered a law in the United States, the Supreme Court misinterpreted what Jefferson wrote. Jefferson's words were used as a legal precedent despite being used out of context.

This redefinition of Jefferson's original meaning has provided the basis for the Supreme Court's definition of separation of church and sate. However not one of the ninety Founding Fathers stated, argued for or against, or even referred to such a phrase when they debated for months about the specific words to use when writing the First Amendment. Congressional Records from June 7 to September 25, 1789 reveal that none of these men, including Thomas Jefferson, ever used the phrase, "separation of church and state (3)."

Two days after Jefferson wrote his &ldquowall of separation&rdquo metaphor he attended church services held in the House of Representatives where the Speaker&rsquos podium was used as the pulpit. This was no isolated event either as he continuously attended church services held on government property during his two terms as President. President Madison also attended church services in the House on Sundays. Even the Treasury building was used as a church on Sundays where John Quincy Adams was known to attend (3).


The campaign for the separation of church and state

Two strong voices kept the theory of separation alive: republicans, inspired by the revolution, and Protestants, seeking independence from a Catholicdominated government. Republicans did not separate church and state during the short-lived Second Republic of 1848. Indeed, Chapter Two of the Constitution of that year reiterated the constitutional connection of church and state. For the remainder of the century, separation was a central feature of programs of radical republicans but postponed by moderates. Léon Gambetta (1838–1882) stressed separation in his Belleville Manifesto of 1869 and Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929) did the same in his Radical Manifesto of 1885.

Many Protestants did not wait for politicians to legislate separation. Inspired by the Evangelical revival known as the "awakening" (le réveil) and by the teaching of theologians such as Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847), Protestants founded "free churches" (églises libres) outside of the concordat system. These églises libres were self-financed and outside of state regulation. Prominent congregations, such as the Église Taitbout in Paris, led for much of the century by Pastor Edmond Dehault de Pressensé (1824–1891), became religious centers of the campaign for the separation of church and state.


Introduction (Part 1)

Although this term is in near universal use throughout North America, it can be confusing. The principle actually involves separation of religion, not just churches, from the government.

The principal religion in western hemisphere has been Christianity since the 16th century it continues to be the choice of about 75% of the U.S. and Canadian adult populations. But, "religion" in the U.S. involves much more than Christian churches it includes:

Many lawsuits about the entanglement of religion and government have involved conflicts between Christian churches or denominations and state laws and regulations. That is to be expected, because Christinas make up about 75% of the adult population, whereas the next largest organized religions -- Judaism and Islam -- are only about 1% eacy. There have been some major cases involving other religions:

The term "separation of religion and state" would be a much less confusing term. It would be more accurate. It might not be as troublesome to Christians as "church and state" which can imply that there is some sort of a vendetta oppressing Christianity. However, "separation of church and state" is firmly imbedded in the culture, and so we will generally use it here.

Historical integration of church and state:

For the past 2 millennia, in most countries, church and state had been either linked or actually merged:

The American colonies had largely followed that principle as well. There were many examples of religious discrimination written into the constitutions of various states during the years following the revolutionary war. Typical laws:

Religious freedom in Virginia:

In 1779, Thomas Jefferson was concerned about the power of the Church of England within Virginia. He felt a guarantee of religious freedom was the best guarantee that America would avoid the religious intolerance and religiously inspired bloodshed that had marked much of the history of Europe. He wrote an Act for Establishing Religious Freedom after a long battle, it became law in Virginia on 1786-JAN-16. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was based in part on that act.

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"Wall of Separation" between Church and State

Thomas Jefferson, as president, wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut on 1802-JAN-1. It contains the first known reference to the "wall of separation". The essay states in part:

". I contemplate with solemn 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 and State. "

During the 1810's, President James Madison wrote an essay titled "Monopolies" which also refers to the importance of church-state separation. He stated in part:

"Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and Government 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."

The US Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment as if it requires this "wall of separation" between church and state. It not only prohibits any government from adopting a particular denomination or religion as official, but requires government to avoid excessive involvement in religion.

Church/state separation in the U.S. Constitution:

The framers of the U.S. Constitution were concerned that European history might repeat itself in the new world. They wanted to avoid the continual wars motivated by religious hatred that had decimated many countries within Europe. They decided that a church/state separation was their best assurance that the U.S. would remain relatively free of inter-religious strife. Many commentators feel that over two centuries of relative religious peace in the U.S. have shown that they were right.

In 1789, the first of ten amendments were written to the Federal Constitution they have since been known as the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment reads:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."


The church and the Byzantine, or Eastern, Empire

In the 4th century the emperor Constantine granted himself, as “bishop of foreign affairs,” certain rights to church leadership. These rights concerned not only the “outward” activity of the church but also encroached upon the inner life of the church—as was shown by the role of the emperor in summoning and leading imperial councils to formulate fundamental Christian doctrine and to ratify their decisions.

In the Byzantine Empire the secular ruler was called “priest and emperor” and exercised authority as head of the church. Although never ordained, the emperor held jurisdiction over ecclesiastical affairs. The belief that his authority came directly from God was symbolically expressed in the ceremony of both crowning and anointing him. This tradition was continued in the Russian realms, where the tsardom claimed a growing authority for itself even in the area of the church.