The BIG Lie: "Separation of Church and State" (Part 4)

Author: Andy Woods
Date Written: February 14, 2024
From the archive of
In the last three posts, we began a series on the "separation between 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. First, we observed that the words “separation between church and state” never appear in the actual wording of the First Amendment. The so -called "separation between church and state" terminology was not part of America's foundation and was never even used to limit Christian expression in government until after most of our nation's history had already transpired. Second, we noted that Jefferson used the phrase “wall of separation of church and state” as a one-way wall preventing the government from interfering with Christianity rather than preventing Christianity from influencing government. We now move on to our third point.


Third, regarding the issue of religious practices in public schools, the Engle and Schempp courts confidently asserted that the framers would have been opposed to such a practice. However, the court conveniently ignored the legislative activities of the First Congress, which was comprised of those who wrote and adopted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. An obvious way to determine the meaning of a document is to observe the prior and subsequent legislative history of those who authored the document. The First Congress, made up largely of the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights including the First Amendment, also passed the Northwest Ordinance, which was signed into law by President Washington in 1789. Article III of the Northwest Ordinance says, “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged” (italics added). ((Henry S. Commager, ed., Documents of American History, 8th ed. (NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968), 131.)) Apparently, the framers of the First Amendment believed that schools and educational institutions were the proper place to encourage religion and morality. Any fair minded reading of American history demonstrates that our founding fathers had no problem with the generic principles of Christianity being expressed in government as long as one Christian denomination was not favored over another. If anyone was qualified to comment on the true meaning of the First Amendment, it was Joseph Story:
On November 18, 1811, President James Madison nominated Story to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Senate confirmed the appointment on February 3, 1812. At the age of thirty-two, Story was the youngest person ever appointed to the Supreme Court. While on the Supreme Court, Story served as a delegate to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1820 and was a Professor of Law at Harvard, where he wrote a series of nine commentaries on the law, each of which was published in several editions.

In fact, according to Joseph Story:

"Probably at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the amendment to it now under consideration [the First Amendment], the general if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation. [See Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States: With a Preliminary Review of the Constitutional History of the Colonies and the States Before the Adoption of the Constitution, 5th ed., 2 vols., ed. Melville M. Bigelow (Boston, MA: Little and Brown, 1891; reprint, Buffalo, NY: Hein, 1994), Sec. 1874, p. 2:630-31.]
Based upon the legislative activities of those who framed the First Amendment, it would seem that they understood the prohibition against the establishment of a religion as forbidding only government-sponsored denominationalism. The framers would have been perfectly comfortable with governmental sponsoring of the general principles of Christianity that were applicable to all Christian denominations. After all, it was those who wrote the First Amendment who also placed government-subsidized chaplains into the congress and the military. We might ask ourselves why so many of our older public buildings from the founding era are inscribed with Scripture verses and other Christian sentiments if our founding fathers designed a Constitution that illegalized such a practice? To argue that the First Amendment’s prohibition against an establishment of religion removes all vestiges of Christianity from public life leads to the ridiculous conclusion that the First Congress violated the very Constitution and First Amendment that they themselves had authored and adopted. Similarly, the question needs to be asked, “If Christianity in the public schools is blatantly unconstitutional according to the intent of the founding fathers, why did it take the judiciary nearly two hundred years to figure this out and apply the Constitution properly so as to eradicate public school sponsored prayer and Bible reading?”
Jefferson Memorial - Notice the inscriptions.
Based upon modern Supreme Court decisions dealing with prayer and Bible reading in school, the court has subsequently developed a three-part test for determining if religious expression in government is permissible. The activity must have a secular purpose, must not advance nor inhibit religion, and must not excessively entangle government with religion.  This is the test that has been consistently used to push much of Christianity out of the public schools and government on the grounds that such activity does not pass constitutional muster. Yet this test is out of harmony with the views of the founders who favored the general, non-sectarian principles of Christianity in government as long as one Christian denomination was not favored over another.   Thus, legal scholar John Eidsmoe suggests another test that the courts should instead use that is far more harmonious with the beliefs of the founders when determining if religion in government violates the First Amendment. According to Eidsmoe, Christian activity in government is impermissible if it compels attendance at religious services or activities, prefers a particular “church or denomination above others,” and penalizes those who do not support a specific government involvement with religion such as by “depriving them of the right to vote or hold office.” [See John Eidesmoe, The Christian Legal Advisor (Milford, MI: Mott, 1984), 147.] The bottom line to this whole discussion is that the legal test that is used today to completely separate God from government is inconsistent with the beliefs of the founding fathers whose legislative record demonstrates that they contemplated no such separation.  

(To Be Continued...)

No Comments




no categories


no tags