Thursday, February 17, 2011

Inspiration for the Day, February 17, 2011: 

The following appeared in my church bulletin:

Where did the phrase separation of church and state come from?

Often when someone speaks of the constitutionally guaranteed right to religion, they also speak of "the wall of separation between church and state," or simply "the separation of church and state."

One of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, is directly responsible for giving us this phrase. In his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, then-President Jefferson used the phrase, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, [the people, in the 1st Amendment,] 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."

Are there references to God in the Constitution?

The word "God" does not appear within the text of the Constitution of the United States. After spending three and a half months debating and negotiating about what should go into the document that would govern the land, the framers drafted a constitution that is secular.

What about the Declaration of Independence?

The Declaration of Independence is seen as that document that established the new nation of the United States. It was written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776. It was signed by the Continental Congress and sent to King George III of England. It is celebrated every July 4, but it is not the law of the land. It is a statement of sentiments directed to King George III in reaction to unfair taxation.

The Declaration of Independence refers to "the Laws of Nature," "Nature's God," and "the Creator."

The Declaration of Independence is not a legal document; it is not the U.S. Constitution. It was written to announce the separation of the thirteen colonies from England. Foes of the principle of separation of church and state often refer to the word "Creator" in the Declaration of Independence as proof that the framers of the U.S. Constitution intended for the United States to be ruled by a sovereign being. Some fundamentalists refer to the Declaration of Independence as organic law.

The Declaration of Independence - July 4, 1776
"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...."

Constitution of the United States - September 15, 1787
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Amendment 1 - December 15, 1791
Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression
"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."

Amendment 14 - July 9, 1868
Section 1 of 4
Citizenship Rights
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of laws."

Actually, the "wall of separation" of church and state metaphor goes back to 17th century America.

Many American Christians today do not know their faith's history. Church state separation is central to America's founding principles and faith heritage. In 1644, Baptist Roger Williams (persecuted by "Christian" colonial theocrats, who considered Baptists heretical) called for a "wall of separation" between church and state. Baptists' "wall of separation" would prevent government from interfering with the free exercise of religion, and prevent government from incorporating religion into governance.

Generations of Baptists were persecuted, and shed blood, in the fight (against colonial theocracies) to separate church and state. Their triumph finally came in the enactment of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, establishing the Baptist vision of a "wall of separation" between church and state.

Deniers of church state separation often respond that the phrase "wall of separation" is not in the U. S. Constitution. Well, neither is the word "Trinity" in the Bible, but most deniers of church state separation probably believe in the Trinity.

More importantly, Christians of the late 18th and early 19th centuries clearly understood that the First Amendment wording - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" - separated church from state. Their testimony bears much more weight than the fabricated history loved by many modern conservative Christians and politicians.

Make no mistake: denying church state separation mocks our nation's founding principles and faith heritage. Church state separation was good for America in 1791, and it is good for America now. To see the problems of merging church and state, look to the Middle East, where conservative religious law (Sharia Law, based on the biblical Old Testament) rules.

Church state separation is a liberal, and American, moral value of which we all can be proud.

Bruce Gourley
Baptist History & Heritage Society
Thanks for that. I agree that separation is good and necessary for America, and one of the reasons I am proud and grateful to live here.
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