Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Separation of Church and State

The separation of church and state, a phrase thrown about today to keep churches from putting up Christmas decorations on public ground, or from preaching regarding politics from the pulpit, but what is that phrase all about.

Though we have adopted this phrase as constitutional doctrine it can be found nowhere in the constitution or bill of rights. It was written in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists on the first day of 1802. The entire letter is only 3 short paragraphs. Two of which contain a gracious open and close. Here is the body of the letter which has dictated the separation of church and state for 200 years now.

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, & 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 & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

It would appear to me from this letter quoting the constitution that Jefferson is trying to clear up what is meant by, "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" is protection of the church from the government. Both the establishment clause and the free exercise clause limit the state, not the church.

In fact wouldn't nearly every assault against the church, regardless of denomination be easily defended with the phrase, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", a phrase actually found in the constitution, and supported by this letter from Jefferson.

I am not one to think as a pastor I would want to endorse a candidate, However, should a pastor wish to do so, I believe he would be under his rights to do so.


Mookie said...

Isn't it always interesting that everyone conveniently forgets proper sentence structure and how it offers two sentences here, combine into one

1. Congress shal make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

and 2. Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise thereof (thereof, pertaining to the religious establishment)

All In said...

I would also ad that the word "respecting" has two meanings which conjure vastly different ideas in the mind of the reader. The first definition would be "Congress shall make no law "regarding" an establishment of religion. That is the way I believe this was meant. It could be interpreted however to be, "Congress shall make no law "giving credence to" the establishment of religion."