Monday, July 24, 2006
Does 'Separation of Church and State' Really Exist?
- By Warner Todd Huston
Secularists today have a catch phrase that they use like a club against religion in America. That club is named "The Separation of Church and State".
So many Americans have heard the phrase that they think it is one actually written right into the Constitution of the United States. Those who are more learned on the subject realize it is not. In fact, those who are learned on the subject know that it wasn't mentioned in any law, or even in the halls of Congress, until long after the Constitution was written. In fact, there was not much attention paid to the phrase at all until after Thomas Jefferson, the originator of the phrase, was long dead.
Not even the Supreme Court paid it much attention until the 1940s, so this “wall of separation” issue is not one that hails from the early Republic with the same meaning as it does today. Our Founders had very different ideas about religion and government, ideas that were not nearly as simple as the stark black or white assumptions of the activists of today.
The Danbury Letter
The man who initially wrote the phrase, Thomas Jefferson, wrote it in an 1802 letter to a congregation of Baptist churchmen from Danbury, Connecticut. Only elected president of the United States but two years preciously, (1800 – 1808) Jefferson was responding to a letter sent him by the Danbury church members who were attempting to get his support for their struggle against the state's somewhat oppressive religious requirements for certain rights in that state -- not an unusual practice in the states at that time. While Jefferson's letter only obliquely addressed the Baptist's concerns, more importantly it addressed the Federal position on establishing a national religion because Jefferson’s reply was focused on the Federal issue, not that of the states.
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