The following is part of a five-part series discussing the inextricable link between God and Liberty in the context of challenges to religion on the fallacious notion that our Founding Fathers intended a secular nation. The consequences of a Godless society are considered and the historical precedence for religion in U.S. politics is explored.
Part I discusses the true origin of liberty and I don’t mean the liberty afforded byour government – I mean true liberty.
Part II compares government under religious and irreligious extremes to understandthe importance of God’s influence in establishing just governance.
Part III addresses the question of which religion can be used to form a logicallycoherent and objective basis for morality.
Part IV looks at the history of the infamous phrase, “a wall of separation between church and state,” and examines the efficacy of its current interpretation.
Part V shows the direction we must go as a nation to preserve liberty and provides recommendations for achieving it.
Part IV – History of “Wall of Separation between Church and State”
Undoubtedly, the most common phrase in the government vs. religion battles is “Separation between church and state.” Most Americans probably don’t have any idea where this phrase comes from; much less what it really means. In present times it has become the catch phrase of those who wish to strip any religions mention (particularly Christian religions) from any public place. However, truth is a vociferous enemy of revisionist history and wanton logic and in reality it was a matter of reassurance to a populous of varied Christian denominations.
In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson penned the following letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. In Connecticut, Baptists were a minority and they were likewise concerned that the preponderance of political representation (local, state, and federal) from other denominations would cause them to be subjugated to the more dominant denomination. Jefferson was pointing out that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prevented any faction of the United States political apparatus from “establishing” a particular religion.
To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
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.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association assurances of my high respect & esteem.
(signed) Thomas Jefferson
Since the writing of this letter – most notably since 1947 – the phrase “Wall of Separation Between Church and State” has been used to successfully argue that there shall be no mention of religion in any public venue. However, this was certainly not Jefferson’s intent. Jefferson was simply elucidating what the First Amendment already said: Congress can’t establish a state religion. If he was implying anything further he would certainly be stepping outside his Constitutional authority as president; only a Constitutional amendment could ratify the Establishment Clause. Yet his letter has formed the basis for several legal actions going far beyond the intent of the First Amendment even to the point of violating it outright, such as the ACLU suing the Tennessee Board of Education to prevent teachers from wearing or bearing any objects that could suggest a Christian subcontext, or even praying with students as part of the National Day of Prayer.
Many like to argue that Jefferson was an atheist or agnostic and thus inclined to view the First Amendment in this way. However, this is a false representation of Jefferson’s religious views. He was most likely a Deist, but certainly not agnostic or atheistic. Certainly no self respecting atheist would provide the salutation found in the last paragraph of the aforementioned letter. Moreover, such a supposition of Jefferson ignores blatant historical truth. Jefferson’s reply to the Danbury Baptist Association was dated January 1, 1802. On January 3, 1802 Jefferson attended church in the House of Representatives, as was his usual custom. (Church services were held every Sunday in the Capitol building until 1866.) Had Jefferson intended the current interpretation of his infamous phrase it would defy all reason for him to attend Christian religious services in the epicenter of U.S. government without any objection.
Indeed the question is begged: why did it take until 1947 (Everson vs. Board of Education) for the Supreme Court to take Jefferson’s 1802 letter as evidence for the Founder’s belief that government and religion should be completely disengaged from one another? The answer is ideology.
The World is rife with examples of mixed ideology. Some heated exchanges can be had by taking a stance in the Anthropogenic Global Warming hoax (see…I’ve revealed my bias), Creation vs. Evolution debate, and the subject separation of church and state issue within American government. Much like my question in Part I, “Why does the universe exist?” there are ways to derive each person’s a priori beliefs. These personal presuppositions are what cause us to formulate opinions and positions on issues – the role and breadth of government in society is one such issue. A debate about the philosophical merits of the courts’ decisions regarding religion and government is pointless and likely to be never-ending with neither side of the philosophical spectrum yielding from their fundamental beliefs.
Instead, it is instructive to consider who the Supreme Court justices were in 1947 during Everson. Not surprisingly, 8 of the 9 justices were appointed by FDR, the father of modern American liberalism (second only in chronology to progressive Woodrow Wilson). To suggest that a president’s Supreme Court appointments are without bias is to live in ignorance of the judicial records of Justices Kagan and Sotomayor, both appointed under the reign of the ultra-liberal President Obama. Likewise, it is easy to see how the progressivism of FDR became instrumental, via his court appointees, to the decision of Everson. Once Everson was “on the books” it became only a matter of legal precedent for all subsequent cases on this issue barring an act of Congress to change the law.
Thus we see that today’s objections to as much as a whisper of religion regarding anything resembling a public entity is not based upon the intentions of our Founding Fathers; instead it is the consequence of ideology run amuck. It is unlikely that those popping the cork on their champagne bottles following the court decisions supporting their dubious claims to the extrication of religion considered the following two paradoxes:
1) In seeking legal action against religious establishment (predominantly Christian) the separationists have established a state religion: atheism. This is in direct violation of the Establishment Clause which they reference as the source of authority in their cases.
2) By upholding atheism as the only belief system permitted by government, they seek to derive just proper law from a philosophy that can only offer meaninglessness (see Part I) and therefore lawlessness.
In conclusion, it should be readily apparent through this limited discussion, that the Founders of our nation most certainly did not intend a government completely devoid of religions influence. To the contrary, their intent was to establish a government on the basis of unalienable rights afforded by the “Creator.” James Madison wrote that “religion is the basis and Foundation of Government.” George Washington said in his farewell address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” John Adams wrote, “…it is Religion and Morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.” The true intentions of the Founders could not be clearer.
It is no accident the treacherous and deadly regimes led by the likes of Mao and Stalin were strictly atheistic – law and morality are entirely subjective when there is no basis for it and the slaughter of millions of innocent citizens is defensible without religion. Any derogatory references by the Founders to religion must be considered in the context of the times where differences between Christian denominations had been the source of civil and multinational wars throughout Europe. In America, all colonies except Rhode Island had established official churches – of varying Christian denominations. Therefore, it is easy to understand the motivation of the Founders to establish a form of federalism that did not alienate one State’s religious preference. Likewise, they did not want to descend to fighting amongst the states like Europe. The Founders well understood logic and reason (it was still a part of basic educational curriculum at the time) and they knew a government devoid of religion was based upon nothing. Consequently, the U.S. government was based upon objectivity and common sense that can only come from God. To follow the current trend is to descend into a deep chasm of illogical senselessness.