Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Separation of Church and State

Constitution of the United Soviet Socialist Republic (1922-1991) declared:
“Article 124: 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.”

Constitution of the United States of America (June 21, 1788 - ) By June 21, 1788, nine of the states had ratified the Constitution, establishing the Constitution.
“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 of the right of the people to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Supreme Court of New York 1958, declared in the case Baer v. Kolmorgen, 181 N.Y.S. 2d. 230, 237 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. 1958):

“Much has been written in recent years concerning Thomas Jefferson’s reference in 1802 to ‘a wall of separation between church and State.’ …Jefferson’s figure of speech has received so much attention that one would almost think at times that it is to be found somewhere in our Constitution.”

Roger Williams (1603-1683) was the “Father of Rhode Island” and founder of Providence and Rhode Island Plantations. He founded the town of Providence in 1636 on land given to him by the Narragansett Indians. Providence, Rhode Island was the first place in world history where freedom to worship was separated from the control of the state. Williams organized the First Baptist Church in the New World. A founding principal of Providence was that the state could not interfere or restrict free and open worship of God according to the Bible. The Charter of Rhode Island was granted to Roger Williams in July of 1663 by King Charles II.
“That they, pursueing, with peaceable and loyall mindes, sober, serious and religious intentions…in the holie Christian faith…a most flourishing civil state may stand and best bee maintained…grounded upon gospel principles.”

Roger Williams declared in a message:
“When they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broken down the wall itself…And that there fore if He will eer please to restore His garden and paradise again, it must of necessity be wall in peculiarly unto Himself from the world…”

On January 1, 1802 Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association of Danbury Connecticut. Jefferson wrote to calm their fears that Congress was not in the process of choosing a single Christian denomination to become the “state” denomination as in the case of Anglican England and Virginia. The Baptists has suffered severe persecution for their faith. Jefferson borrowed a phrase from the Baptist minister Roger Williams. As I cited previously, Williams declared, “the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broken down the wall…”

Thomas Jefferson declared:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies soley between a man and his God, that he owes account to none other for faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, 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.”

Consequently, Jefferson assured the Danbury Baptists in this personal letter that the Federal Government was forbidden to interfere with, or in any way control, the decisions and religious affairs of the American churches.

Thomas Jefferson was not a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 nor did he sign the Constitution of the delegates to the convention. Jefferson wasn’t present when religious freedom and the First Amendment was debated in the first session of Congress in 1789. Jefferson was the Minister to France when these events occurred. Jefferson heard neither the debates nor the comments made by the Founders regarding the First Amendment. Thus, Jefferson relied on 2nd hand information concerning what transpired during the first session of Congress. Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist was written 13 years after the First Amendment. Consequently, Jefferson’s letter to the Baptists is ineligible to be considered as a “first-hand" account of what transpired and the intent of the framers of the First Amendment.

In Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address he declared,

“In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the General [federal] Government. I have therefore undertaken on no occasion to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it, but have left them, as the Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of the church or state authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.”

Jefferson correctly places the “wall of separation” surrounding the church; protecting it from infringements by the federal government.

As early as 1879, the Supreme Court declared Jefferson’s “wall of separation” phrase as “almost an authoritarian declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment.”

It is interesting that the Supreme Court used Jefferson’s “wall of separation” to justify removing prayer and Bible reading from the public schools.

As President of the United States Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) chaired the school board of the District of Columbia. He authored the first plan of education adopted by the city of Washington D. C. His plan used the Holy Bible and Isaac Watts’ "Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs", 1707 as the principal books to teaching reading to the students.

Jefferson was founder of the University of Virginia and recommended that students be permitted to meet together on the campus to pray and worship together. They were encouraged to meet and pray with their professors on campus.

Edward S. Corwin clearly indicates in “American Constitutional History” the purpose of the First Amendment to the Constitution was “to exclude from the national government all power to act on the subject…of religion.”
James Madison declared, “There is not a shadow of right in the general [federal] government to intermeddle with religion…the subject is, for the honor of America, perfectly free and unshackled. The government has no jurisdiction over it.”

Constitutional attorney, John W Whitehead declares,
“The First Amendment, therefore, provides freedom for the Christian religion, not freedom from religion.”

In a letter to Samuel Miller on January 23, 1808, Jefferson declared:

“I consider the government of the U.S. as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, 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 authority.”

On June 12, 1823 Jefferson wrote a letter to Justice William Johnson regarding the meaning of the Constitution.

“On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may ne squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”


Mikewind Dale said...

It is of course to be assumed as a given that Jefferson's words to the Baptists regarding the Federal Constitution do not affect the states. This is obvious. Your quotations of Jefferson himself saying exactly this are nevertheless most appreciated, notwithstanding their redundancy.

And I even more appreciate your showing that Jefferson himself utilized the Bible in public-school education - this I did not know, and I find this most fascinating. This is solid evidence against those who would misinterpret the separation of church and state.

Furthermore, however, I might note that to the Baptists, Jefferson said, "...reach actions only, and not opinions...". This could provide a linchpin for the government to enact religious legislation for the sake not of prescribing orthodox belief, but rather, for the sake of prescribing proper religious action. Cf. Christianity in Nineteenth Century American Law. In short: religion was enshrined by states' legislation so long as the religious laws in question contributed to the public peace.

Mikewind Dale said...

Jefferson said, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies soley between a man and his God".

See my comments on sphere-sovereignty here.

So Jefferson's comments might be understood in light of three distinct facts:
(1) He was speaking only of the federal government, not the states;
(2) He was speaking only of coercing religious belief, not action;
(3) He was speaking only of the relationship between man and G-d, which lies outside the sphere-sovereignty of the magistrate, but he was not speaking of man's relationship with his fellow, in which religious law might quite properly and legitimately be endorsed by the civil authorities.

Therefore, in three different cases, Jefferson's "wall of separation" is null-and-void:
(1) With states;
(2) With legislation on action;
(3) With legislation that affects the public peace.
With any of these three, the separation of church and state is no longer in effect.

Mikewind Dale said...

Of course, the government might freely choose to avoid religious coercion even when conscionable. For example, the state might pragmatically choose to avoid enacting religious legislation even when it otherwise is entitled to do so.

For example, the state might decide that a certain act of legislation will alienate non-believers, and thereby cause more loss than gain.

But it is not the separation of church and state that is the obstacle to religious legislation in such a case.