I do not wish to see America become a theocracy. I do not wish to see state governments or the federal government establish a state church of any kind. So in that since I am in favor of a separation between church in state. However, progressives define separation of Church and state as being that the Christian faith or a Biblical worldview is not to have any place within the public square. This definition of separation of church and state is not what the Framers of the Constitution had in mind.
The liberal humanist desire to kick God out of America has been forged by an outright myth propagated through the deliberate misinterpretation of the Founders’ original intent. Americans have bought the lie that the Founders were secular men who built a nation on exclusively secular ideas and principles.
The Phrase that Never Was
Most Americans believe the term “separation of church and state” is found in the U.S. Constitution, but it is not. If you’re looking for a constitutional source for the idea, however, you will find it in the constitution of the former Soviet Union: “In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the State, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.” (Footnote #1)
Consistent with the intentions of those who framed the Soviet constitution, today’s secular humanist liberals use the concept to enforce the belief that the religion of God should have no part in American civil government, policy, or laws at any level—local, state, or federal.
But what is the origin and true intent of the phrase “separation of church and state” here in the United States of America? It originated in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson on New Year’s Day 1802, to the Danbury Baptist Association. The Baptists had shared with Jefferson their fear that the government might establish a state church. In his letter, Jefferson reassured the group of clergyman that the First Amendment prohibits the U.S. Congress from establishing a state church. To clarify the intent, Jefferson declared that a wall of separation between church and state should be maintained in order to keep the government from interfering with the free exercise of religion: “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,’ thus building a wall of separation of Church and State.” (Footnote #2) In other words, the law is intended to place restrictions on the government, not upon the people!
It is disheartening to note that in 1947, and on numerous occasions thereafter, the U.S. Supreme Court took the phrase “separation of church and state” from Thomas Jefferson’s letter and (shamelessly!) inverted the intended meaning of the phrase. As a result, Thomas Jefferson is now inaccurately perceived as an aggressive deist who wanted a secular America and who wanted to “keep the church in its place.” Both ideas are gross misrepresentations of the truth.
Thomas Jefferson’s Worldview
We’ve already touched on Thomas Jefferson’s beliefs, but because his statement—however misused—is central to today’s church/state issue, it is extremely important that we have an accurate understanding of this especially influential Founder.
The historical record is clear that Thomas Jefferson did hold to unbiblical theology that was often hostile to Biblical truth. However, Jefferson like some of the other Founding Fathers, believe the Word of God was only the Word of God when it agreed with man or human reason. While Jefferson was very hostile to Biblical and salvation foundational doctrines, he, like many of the Founding Fathers, believed that Christian values and virtues where a benefit to the main stance of a Constitutional Republic. We also must remember that Jefferson, like many of the Founding Fathers were politicians and would want to express and represent what the vast majority of Americans at that time believed.
While Jefferson was hostile to key Biblical doctrines within his own worldview, he was not opposed to the influence of Christianity on public life or the practice of Christianity within the public square or within official government proclamations and practices.
While serving in the Virginia Assembly, Jefferson called for the Day of Fasting and Prayer. (Footnote #3) Later, while serving as the governor of Virginia (1779–81), Jefferson decreed a day of “public and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God.” (Footnote #4) It was also he who penned in the Declaration of Independence the following statements:
• “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. . . .”
• “We, Therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions. . . .”
• “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.”
Do these sound like the words of a man that wanted a secular nation?
Another of Jefferson’s acts is also very revealing. After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a committee was organized to create a state seal that would reflect the new nation’s worldview. Jefferson recommended, “The children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.” (Footnote #5)
The words of Thomas Jefferson in 1798 leave little doubt that he would disapprove of the U.S. Supreme Court using—out of context—his separation phrase to justify “constitutional limits” on the religious liberties of Americans: “No power over the freedom of religion . . . [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution.”
And for all those who say Thomas Jefferson would not have wanted America’s students to pray in school, read the Bible, or invoke the name of God in their graduation speeches, consider another serious bit of evidence to the contrary. While serving as the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson chaired the school board for the District of Columbia. In that capacity, he wrote the first plan of education adopted by the city of Washington. His plan directs teachers to use the Bible and Isaac Watts’ Hymnal as the primary books by which to teach reading.
So, you tell me. What would Thomas Jefferson say concerning federal judges prohibiting the state of Alabama from having a monument of the Ten Commandments in the lobby of the Alabama Supreme Court building? How would he react to a federal judge telling the students of Galveston, Texas, that they could not invoke the name of Jesus Christ in a graduation ceremony? What would Thomas Jefferson say to the U.S. Supreme Court that set national policy for every state in the union by ruling in 1962 the state of New York could not have students recite a prayer at the beginning of each school day? What would his position be on their 1963 ruling that made it illegal for Pennsylvania’s students to begin each day by reading from the Bible? Where would Jefferson stand on their 1980 ruling that made it illegal for the state of Kentucky and every other state in the Union to post the Ten Commandments?
The answer is clear. He wrote a summary statement on January 23, 1808, to Samuel Miller:
I consider the government of the U.S. as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines disciples, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment, or free exercise, of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the U.S. [10th Amendment]. Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in religious discipline has been delegated to the general government. It must then rest with the states as far as it can be in any human authority. (Footnote #11)
If the humanistic, liberal, God-hating Americans actually knew and admitted what Thomas Jefferson believed, they would shift from using him as their secular “poster boy” to calling him a member of the religious right. Clearly, Thomas Jefferson—the very one upon whom they base their lie of church/state separation—would tell you what knowledgeable conservatives have been saying for years: the Federal government has no constitutional authority to tell the states what they can and cannot do when it comes to the free exercise of religion.
The truth is Thomas Jefferson believed America’s form of government was supported by religion: “Deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.”
But what about the other Founders? Was perhaps a secular nation their intent?
The Founders, Christianity, and Government
Joseph Story served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845, and in his commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, he wrote:
Now, there will probably be found few persons in this, or any other Christian country, who would deliberately contend, that it was unreasonable, or unjust to foster and encourage the Christian religion generally, as a matter of sound policy, as well as of revealed truth. In fact, every American colony, from its foundation down to the revolution, with the exception of Rhode Island, (If, indeed that state be an exception,) did openly, by the whole course of its laws and institutions, support and sustain, in some form, the Christian religion; and almost invariably gave a peculiar sanction to some of its fundamental doctrines. And this has continued to be the case in some of the states down to the present period, without the slightest suspicion, that it was against the principles of public law, or republican liberty. (Footnote #13)
The reason Story mentions that some think Rhode Island should be an exception is that, in considering the place of the Ten Commandments in their system of law, “Rhode Island adopted the last six of the Commandments, but not the first four.” (Footnote #14)
The strategy of progressives is simple: If you say something often enough, people tend to believe it. So, in various forms, they repeat the myth that America’s Founders held to a secular, deistic worldview.
1 Soviet Union Constitution, Article 124.
2 Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association.
3 Page Smith, The Nation Comes of Age, vol. 4 (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1981), 660.
4 Gary DeMar, The Untold Story (Atlanta, GA: American Vision Inc., 1993), 116.
5 John and Abigail Adams, Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, Charles Francis Adams, ed., vol. 1 (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841), 152.
13 Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 3rd ed. (Boston, 1858).
14 See Alvin W. Johnson, Sunday Legislation, 23 KY. L.J. 131 n. (1934–35). Sited by William J. Federer, The Ten Commandments and Their Influence on American Law (St. Louis, MO: Amerisearch, Inc., 2003), 15.
15 M. E. Bradford, A Worthy Company: Brief Lives of the Framers of the United States Constitution (Marlborough, NH: Plymouth Rock Foundation, 1982), iv–v.