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What Is The Separation of Church and State?

Written by | May 17th, 2011

The words “Separation of Church and State,” were a metaphor used by Thomas Jefferson, in his correspondence between himself and The Danbury Baptists, in 1801. His exact words, were, “thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

These words, by Jefferson, to The Danbury Baptists, were used to demonstrate, and confirm, that, Constitutionally, our “Federal” Government was removed, legislatively, from the establishment, and prohibition, of any religion in the United States. Jefferson’s metaphor, not only is nowhere in the Constitution, but even in his letter, the metaphor was never intended to apply to our respective states. He was reassuring the Danbury Baptists that our Federal Government would not, and could not, make any laws that would abridge their religious freedoms.

It is the [Federal Government] Supreme Court, who, nefariously, used Jefferson’s metaphor to lead people to believe that there was no role for even state Governments, in our respective states, in the area of religion.

The Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment, was intended to ‘protect’ our individual liberties, in our respective states. In the Everson vs. the Board of Education case, members of the Supreme Court used the case as a way to begin removing some of the state’s and the people’s [First Amendment] religious liberties – which, traditionally, would have been a matter for the citizens and their state constitutions to address.

Prior to that decision, state and local Governments did have some role, in our respective states, in the area of religion. It was after this Supreme Court decision, that public schools started removing prayer from schools etc. And, this is the same Federal Government that, for the last 30 or so years, many Conservative (likely, well-intended) groups have been working to ‘further empower’ with certain powers that, Constitutionally, have always belonged to (and, should always belong to) the states.


Further Reading:
Everson vs. the Board of Education
10th Amendment

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5 thoughts on “What Is The Separation of Church and State?

  1. markross Post author

    “The States are the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican [as in our Republic] tendencies.” – Thomas Jefferson

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  2. markross Post author

    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative 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 would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,…” – Thomas Jefferson (from his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association)

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  3. markross Post author

    While it is true, that, some states actually did have their own state religions, after the United States Constitution was ratified; and, many of our states did have prayer in our public schools.  And, while I would argue that prayer in school could be, and was, at one time, a good thing for our country and our children – I would be weary, today, even with our state Governments having any say in matters of faith. If we could trust Government to be a body of angels, then, it would be reasonable to have more of a role for ‘state’ Governments, in these areas; but, since men are inherently fallible, and with the corruptive nature often displayed in Government, I think it is reasonable, and, indeed, a blessing that, matters of our faith are not put into the hands of politicians.

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  4. Doug Indeap

    Without explanation, you simply express your disagreement with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees individual rights against infringement by states, including equal protection and due process of law and the rights and privileges of citizenship.

    As the Amendment did not come with a handy glossary of terms explaining exactly what rights are encompassed within those terms, the court naturally and reasonably looked to the Bill of Rights, reasoning that there are found the rights we hold most fundamental, and ruled that at least some of those, including freedom of religion and freedom from government established religion, are protected from state infringement. See: Incorporation of the Bill of Rights.

    While the founders drafted the First Amendment to constrain the federal government, they certainly understood that later amendments (e.g. the 14th Amendment) could extend that Amendment’s constraints to state and local governments.

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  5. markross Post author

    Thank you for the comment, Doug.

    I wasn’t really making the post about the 14th Amendment. I was just giving some very general knowledge about it, for the sake of the post. But, if you scroll down to the end of the post, I say:

    Further Reading:
    Everson vs. the Board of Education

    If you click on that link, it explains pretty much everything you’ve said in the comment about the 14th Amendment, The Incorporation of The Bill of Rights, and the reasoning of The Supreme Court, in their decision-making.

    While I don’t disagree with you, in that the Founders gave us an Amendment process, knowing that ‘the whole American people’ may want to change the Constitution, down the road, it was not in their original intents to have 9 men in black robes using an (ambiguous) Amendment to mean anything they would like it to mean.

    Case and point:
    By the mid 1800s, all states in the union had already, by their own accord, disestablished all state religions in their respective states. Therefore, there was nothing in the First Amendment, as it relates to the establishment clause, that, in my opinion, The Supreme Court could have justified in their decision-making. And, if we are going to give the Supreme Court that kind of latitude over the Bill of Rights, and our First Amendment, why can’t they just wipe out our free speech at some point in the future?

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