THE SEPARATION ISSUE

There is a doctrine related to our constitution that has received much attention over the past few years. It is called “separation of church and state”, or, as preferred by secularists, “the wall of separation”. Out of a number of conversations with friends and acquaintances, I have acquired certain notions about what most of them think it means. The most basic of these notions is that the doctrine itself implies that the intent of our founders was to create a secular government entirely removed from Christian expression. If that interpretation is correct, our constitution would be at radical odds with our Declaration of Independence, which was prepared by many of the same individuals who created both documents, and which openly acknowledged the Hand of God in the affairs of man. It begins with these words:

“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.”

Note that the Declaration did not assume an inalienable right of happiness itself, or of any handout by government. It just said that government, by virtue of a yet greater Divine Ruler, does not have an arbitrary right to deny life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.

A few years back, Hal Lindsey of Late Great Planet Earth fame presented on his television series The Lindsey Report a number of quotations from several of our early statesmen. The quotes demonstrate convincingly that our founders never intended to create a fully secular government in which God would play no part. To the contrary, they always expected that Christianity, while not to be thrust upon the public by governmental intervention, would by popular choice predominate in American society. In sharp contrast with modern opinion, the founders of our country thought that Christianity, in being the basic foundation of ethical behavior in the public at large, should be a necessary and integral component of our form of government.

The following well-documented partial selection of quotes that Lindsey used in his telecast are representative of the thinking of our early leaders. It is my hope that they may challenge your thinking on this matter:

“Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
-John Adams

“It is rightly impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible.”
-George Washington

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians. . .”
-Patrick Henry

“If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.”
-William Penn

“God intends you to choose for rulers just men who will rule in the fear of God. . .If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupt.”
-Daniel Webster

The men who spoke these words were patriots who possessed uncommon character and intellect. They worked long and hard to bring forth this unique country. But they also sought and received the support of our Judeo-Christian God in their endeavor. Through their own commentaries we can appreciate that they never considered the process of American government to be separable from a common public exercise of the Christian faith.

Those who insist that our founding fathers were not united in that attitude are fond of trotting out Thomas Jefferson who, they claim, was a Deist who considered God to be too remote to be involved in everyday human affairs. Apparently, that was a popular perception even in Jefferson’s own day. Nevertheless, even if we granted that Jefferson actually thought that way, and even if he was the initial author of the “establishment” and “freedom” clauses in our constitution that led to the notion of separation between church and state, we could still state that the overwhelming majority of statesmen who were involved in the birth of our country had strong connections with their Lord Jesus Christ. These others were far too committed to their Christianity to accept the inclusion of this idea in the constitution if it had carried the slightest implication to them that it fostered the suppression of their religion. In fact, they were virtually unanimous in thinking it meant the precise opposite: that the separation freed the exercise of the Christian faith from the possibility of governmental intervention.

But did Jefferson actually think in opposition to Christian precepts? Was he really a secularist? Standing in stark contradiction to that concept is Jefferson’s own endorsement of federal funding to build churches and to support missionaries working among the Native Americans. The rest of the quotes that were presented in the Hal Lindsey telecast noted above are supplied below. As you readily can see from the first quote which is from Jefferson himself, he appears to be irritated with that view of his theology and its application to government:

“My views. . .are the result of a lifetime of inquiry and reflection, and very different from the anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed, but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others. . .”
-Thomas Jefferson

Christian readers may consider Jefferson’s notion of Christianity as given above to be rather weak in the light of Jesus’ Great Commandment to love him with fervent passion [Matthew 22:36-38]. There is also evidence that while he placed a great value on Jesus’ exemplary life, he didn’t believe in His deity or the supernatural aspects of His sojourn on Earth, favoring the new Unitarian system of belief over the traditional Christian expressions of faith. Nevertheless, his faith was stronger and more Christian in outlook than the simple Deism with which he has been falsely charged from that day to this. Jefferson never considered the forbidding of expressions of Christianity – he simply didn’t think it was government’s place to interfere in religion or to exclude other religions. If in his faith he lacked the truly Christian fervor of his contemporaries, his politics dovetailed more harmoniously with theirs than the secularist would like to think.

The “establishment” and “freedom” clauses are embedded in Article 1 of the first ten amendments to the constitution, which were ratified by the states December 15, 1791. Article 1 reads as follows:

“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.”

Jefferson’s own intent regarding the state and religion in that Article is clarified in his letter to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptist Association dated January 1, 1802, from which the following excerpt is quoted. It does contain the phrase ‘wall of separation’, but with a very different meaning than was later reinterpreted without justification by secular-leaning courts.

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign 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.”

He included a sentence that he later intended to delete for political reasons. The sentence began with these words:

“Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorized only to execute their acts, I have refrained. . .”

It is clear from this information that Jefferson’s intent was to limit the federal government’s ability to interfere in religious worship, not the other way around as the Article is falsely construed at present. Every one of the court’s proscriptions of religious expression represents a violation of that Article.

There is no question regarding the truly Christian faith of other great American statesmen who are quoted below.

“. . .Let me live according to those holy rules which Thou hast this day prescribed in Thy holy words. . .Direct me to the true object, Jesus Christ – the way, the truth, and the life. Bless, O Lord, all the people of this land.
-George Washington
(Inaugural Prayer before the public)

“. . .Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National Morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
-George Washington
(Farewell Address)

“Almost all the civil liberties now enjoyed by the world owe their origin to the principles of the Christian religion. . .The religion which has introduced civil liberty, is the religion of Christ and his apostles. . .This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.”
-Noah Webster

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