The first amendment reads as follows, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;.” But many think this line in the first amendment says there shall be, “A separation of church and state.”

What it says is that congress shall make no law establishing a state religion, but all citizens can practice religion freely. So where did this myth of separation of church and state come from?

The term, separation of church and state, goes back to a misinterpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s letter from 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association. Jefferson specifically stated in this letter, Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God,.”  In other words, the government will not stand between a person and their faith in God.

Jefferson also stated in this letter the following; “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,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” Again, Jefferson’s interpretation is that the state cannot impose its will as it relates to religion.

While this document is the one most used to declare a separation of church and state, we must also be aware of the subject it addressed for a complete interpretation.

The Danbury Baptist Association wrote to Jefferson as the president in 1802, because as a minority religious denomination it was fearful that the Connecticut legislature would pass a law banning the Baptist or establish an approved denomination by law.

Jefferson response was not to create a separation of church and state, but one of a protective nature. Jefferson was well aware of the Roger William’s issue that help create this statement in the constitution.

Williams had been thrown out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony because he did not believe as required by the Colony. Thus settling in and creating the Rhode Island Colony. The founding fathers sought to protect its citizens from this in the future and this was one of the driving forces in the creation of the first amendment.

Also, our founding fathers were well aware of the many issues in Europe where religious persecution was a significant life event in the 16th and 17th century. They knew kings were beheaded and citizens were arrested during this time because of their religious beliefs.

They knew that the great religious war, called the Thirty Years War saw Germany have 25% of its citizens killed. Our founding fathers were well aware of the rancor religious debate would create, thus taking the position that the state would not decide religious arguments and religion was between the individual and God.

So when we fast forward to today, we hear more about separation of state and religion. When it is actually an issue about the individual’s right to practice their religious beliefs.

When we consider the following we get a different point of view;

  • Above the Speaker of The House title in Congress, it says, “In God We trust.”
  • Each President at their inauguration has said, “So help me God.”
  • Every Inaugural address has included the word God.
  • Christmas is a national holiday.
  • Our national anthem includes God.
  • The Declaration of Independence mentions God four times.
  • Chaplains have been on the public payroll since the beginning.
  • A Bible verse is engraved on the Liberty Bell.
  • Oaths in the courtroom have always included a mention of God since the beginning.
  • The dollar bill includes the term “In God we trust.”
  • The Supreme Court building has carvings of Moses and the Ten Commandments.

This list is only a few on the inclusions of God that exist in conjunction with our government and its documents or buildings.

In the modern age we hear a lot about separation of church  and state. But when we consider the facts, the actual wording and the intent, we find it is a myth. We are a country that believes in God and the importance of religion. We are also a country where we have the right to decide how we will believe.

The first amendment is about protecting this right to believe and the government’s inability to tell us what to believe. Even those who don’t believe in God are protected. Throughout the year’s discussions ebb and flow about what the constitution says. And there will be those who try to tell us what it means, while avoiding what it says. The first amendment is the latest to be under attack by modern day revisionist. But it is only one side of the debate. Ninety five percent of the original signers of the Constitution were Christian. Their goal wasn’t to tell us how to believe, but to protect our right to decide for ourselves without government interference.


Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

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