The BIG Lie: "Separation of Church and State" (Part 2)

Author: Andy Woods
Date Written: January 31, 2014
From the archive of
Last week we began a series of posts on the "separation of church and state" supposedly found in the First Amendment. It is because of this phrase, which was first introduced into the fabric of our culture through errant Supreme Court decisions of the early 1960’s, that city councils are sued for placing manger scenes on the steps of city hall, public schools are prohibited from teaching scientific creationism alongside evolution, copies of the Ten Commandments are stricken from government walls, teacher-led prayer and Bible reading is prohibited in public schools, and Christianity has generally been purged from public life. When did all of this insanity begin? We noted that we can trace the origin of the modern understanding and application of separation between church and state to the following two Supreme Court decisions of the early 1960’s: Engle v. Vitale and School District of Abington Township v. Schempp. Yet, an honest appraisal of these decisions shows them to be out of harmony with the vision of the Constitution’s authors. The founders would have been horrified at the prospect of removing the influence of Christianity from the functioning of public schools and government. The purpose of this new series of articles is to show how out-of-step these decisions are with the express wishes of America’s founding fathers. This purpose will be accomplished through a consideration of nine historical and legal facts.

No Mention of the Separation of Church and State

First, the words “separation between church and state” never appear in the actual wording of the First Amendment. The Engle and Schempp courts based their rulings on the “wall of separation between church and state” from the First Amendment’s prohibition of a state establishment of religion. However, it is odd for the court to base its ruling on this “wall of separation of church and state” language considering the fact that none of these words appear in the actual language of the text of the First Amendment. The religion clauses of the First Amendment simply say, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” These first ten words are commonly referred to as the First Amendment's "establishment clause" while the remaining words are called the "free exercise clause." Although one often hears the phrase “a strict wall of separation between church and state,” the words “strict,” “wall,” “separation,” “church,” and “state” nowhere appear in the First Amendment’s wording. Interestingly, in 1958, one jurist commented on this conspicuous absence when he noted:

"Much has been written in recent years concerning Thomas Jefferson’s reference in 1802 to "a wall of separation between church and State." It… has received so much attention that one would almost think at times that it is to be found somewhere in our Constitution" See Baer v. Kolmorgen. 14 Misc. 2nd 1015, 1019 (1958).

While this notion of a strict wall of separation between church and state is alien to the First Amendment, and all of America’s founding documents for that matter, the idea can be found in the constitutions of other countries, such as the former Soviet Union. Article 124 of the Soviet Union Constitution says, “In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the USSR is separated from the state, and the school from the church” (See Amos J. Peaslee, Constitutions of Nations, rev. and 3rd ed., 4 vols; The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1968), 3:1005; Leroy Brownlow, Bible vs. Communism (Fort Worth, TX: Brownlow, 1961), 77). In other words, although the expression cannot be found in any of America's founding documents, it is discoverable in the constitutions of other countries that are predicated upon an atheistic foundation. If the “separation between church and state” language does not appear in the First Amendment, from where does it originate? Interestingly, this phrase actually comes from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 rather than from the First Amendment itself. In other words, the oft used “separation between church and state” phrase is not found in the First Amendment and did not originate until Jefferson’s letter, which was written over a decade after the Constitution was completed. It is strange to connect Jefferson’s words in this letter to the First Amendment considering the fact that Jefferson was out of the country serving as America’s ambassador to France at the time that the Constitution was debated, ratified, and adopted (See Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 163 (1878). See also Tim LaHaye, Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1987), 191-92; John Eidesmoe, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987), 243; Stephen Mansfield, Ten Tortured Words: How the Founding Fathers Tried to Protect Religion in America...And What Has Happened Since (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 2007), 33, 65.) In fact, in 1802, Jefferson corrected Dr. Joseph Priestly who had given Jefferson too much credit in the Constitution's formation:

"One passage, in the paper you enclosed me, must be corrected. It is the following, 'and all say it was yourself more than any other individual, that planned and established it,' i.e., the Constitution. I was in Europe when the Constitution was planned, and never saw it till after it was established. (See Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 20 vols., ed. Albert Ellery Bergh (Washington D.C: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), 10:325, to Dr. Joseph Priestly on June 19, 1802).

Rather than cite those founding fathers who were actually present at the Constitutional Convention or who framed the First Amendment, in order to find "separation between church and state" language, the court relied upon the writings of someone who was not there and who used the expression over a decade after the Constitution had been adopted. The first official governmental pronouncement associating this Jeffersonian separation of church and state language with the establishment clause of the First Amendment was not made until as late as the Everson v. Board of Education case in 1947. Interestingly, only one other time in American judicial history prior to Everson had the Supreme Court ever cited Jefferson’s 1802 letter in full. Here, the court did not connect the Jeffersonian “wall of separation of church and state” to the First Amendment’s establishment clause prohibiting a government establishment of religion. Rather it used the phrase only in connection with government regulation of the free exercise of religion. In other words, because of the separation of church and state concept found in the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, “Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.” ((See Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 164 (1878).))

The bottom line is that the so called separation between church and state terminology was not part of America's foundation and never even breathed in America's legal history until after most of our nation's history had already transpired.

(To Be Continued...)

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