Beyond the Cusp

May 7, 2017

Separation of Church and State and the Jefferson Letter

 

The entire concept of the Separation of Church and State has been twisted, spindled and mutilated beyond recognition as well as belief. Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to answer a letter from them written in October 1801.

 

The address of the Danbury Baptists Association in the state of Connecticut,
Assembled October 7, 1801.
To Thomas Jefferson, Esq., President of the United States of America.

Sir,
Among the many million in America and Europe who rejoice in your election to office; we embrace the first opportunity which we have enjoyed in our collective capacity, since your inauguration, to express our great satisfaction, in your appointment to the chief magistracy in the United States: And though our mode of expression may be less courtly and pompous than what many others clothe their addresses with, we beg you, sir, to believe that none are more sincere.

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty–that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals–that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions–that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors; But, sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter together with the law made coincident therewith, were adopted as the basis of our government, at the time of our revolution; and such had been our laws and usages, and such still are; that religion is considered as the first object of legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights; and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore; if those who seek after power and gain under the pretense of government and religion should reproach their fellow men–should reproach their order magistrate, as a enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dare not, assume the prerogatives of Jehovah and make laws to govern the kingdom of Christ.
Sir, we are sensible that the president of the United States is not the national legislator, and also sensible that the national government cannot destroy the laws of each state; but our hopes are strong that the sentiments of our beloved president, which have had such genial effect already, like the radiant beams of the sun, will shine and prevail through all these states and all the world, till hierarchy and tyranny be destroyed from the earth. Sir, when we reflect on your past services, and see a glow of philanthropy and good will shining forth in a course of more than thirty years we have reason to believe that America’s God has raised you up to fill the chair of state out of that goodwill which he bears to the millions which you preside over. May God strengthen you for your arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you to sustain and support you enjoy administration against all the predetermined opposition of those who wish to raise to wealth and importance on the poverty and subjection of the people.
And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator.
Signed in behalf of the association, Nehemiah Dodge
Ephraim Robbins
Stephen S. Nelson

 

President Jefferson replied to the Danbury Baptists Association and this is a transcript of the final letter as stored online at the Library of Congress, and reflects Jefferson’s spelling and punctuation. We have also placed a copy of said response below (emphasis mine).

 

To Messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
Gentlemen
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
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.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
Thomas Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1802.

 

The First Amendment says absolutely nothing about any wall or separation between Church and State contrary to common belief. It was Jefferson’s letter which used the phrase but which has no standing whatsoever in any court of law as an argument for or against religious liberties. So let us now look at the actual First Amendment with emphasis on the religion sections.

 

Amendment I
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.

 

With all the particulars out of the way and everything set out for all to read, we can now discuss the entirety of the so-called “erecting a wall between church and state is absolutely essential in a free society.” This was the quote utilized in a post on Facebook within the image below as a refutation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s comment quoted as, “Separation of Church and State is unconstitutional.” What is interesting is that the intentions of the Founding Fathers were very easily understood simply by reading the language in the actual First Amendment. Their intent was not to protect government from the church but to protect the churches, all religions, from the government. The entirety of the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, was solely in order to protect the people and their institutions from being oppressed by the government, being controlled by the government, being restricted by the government.

 

Facebook Slant on First Amendment and Wall Between Church and State

Facebook Slant on First Amendment
and Wall Between Church and State

 

The First Amendment would strike down the entirety of the concept of political correctness suppressing speech if it were to be adopted by government, as some have proposed, would be struck down as against the First Amendment with even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg voting to strike down such a law. The recent liberation of men of the cloth to speak on political messages and even to support candidates is a breath of fresh air. The claim is that this will only liberate White, Christian Ministers to speak on religious issues. Why would leftists make this claim that only White, Christian Ministers will be freed by this rule is because they already know that in the inner cities the ministers have been backing the Democrat candidates since the early 1960’s completely ignoring any rules against such speech. They have been doing so with impunity because the law enforcement and politicians are all leftists and Democrats as well and support their telling their congregants to vote for the Democrat candidates. Trust that if one were to leave the normal sermon and tell their congregants that the Democrats have lied to them for years and that perhaps it might be wise to try voting for the Republican Party, they would be shut down and arrested for such speech is against the letter of the law, until just the other day.

 

President Trump declared, “No one should be censoring sermons,” while signing an Executive Order relieving the restrictions from within Rose Garden on Thursday. President Trump went further stating, “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced again and we will never stand for religious discrimination.” The Executive Order states it is now administration policy “to protect and vigorously promote religious liberty.” This order will alleviate restriction on tax-exempt status rooted in an amendment introduced in 1954 by then-Democratic Sen. Lyndon Johnson that gave the IRS authority to punish tax-exempt charitable organizations, including churches, for making political endorsements or getting involved in political campaigns. The order directs the IRS to exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the so-called Johnson Amendment and it instructs the Treasury Department not to target the tax-exempt status of churches and other institutions if they express support for political candidates. This actually levels the playing field as now all pulpits are free to preach and support candidates that are best suited to their congregants’ beliefs. The reality is that the majority of preaching from the pulpit will still support the Democrat Party candidates, or at least this has been my experience. Even in Colorado and Oklahoma, the sermons from the pulpit were expressly left leaning to far left with little difference than those in Seattle, Louisiana, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and Cleveland. I have done a fair bit of traveling in my brief existence of a little over sixty-five years. Most of the Rabbis I have known would have told you that despite our agreement on Torah our politics could not have been more opposite.

 

I have to agree with the image above where they rate the Founding Fathers with one point but they should have credited Jeff Sessions as also having gotten it right. The First Amendment is designed to protect religious institutions from government interference and the people from being forced to follow a religion dictated by the government and imposed upon the population. The First Amendment was the protection for the religious communities to each be permitted their faith and to follow their religious beliefs free from government interference or impingement. There does exist one restriction upon religious institutions, and considering the current political climate, this is a very important restriction, no religion is permitted to use the power of government to restrict other religions or to impose itself as above or privileged over the other religions. Even this last protection is a protection against governmental overreach, even if that overreach is being used by some religion. Nowhere does the First Amendment prevent religious leaders or entire religions from expressing their desires through the ballot box as long as they do not use the power of government against other religions. Still, to this day we hear over and over again how the First Amendment placed a “Wall Between Church and State” despite nothing being further from the truth. The reality is that the First Amendment placed a Wall of Protection between the State and the Church and nothing between the Church and the State with the one restriction that the State must never be used against any religion. It really is that simple, the wall is actually a one way street where religion can, and in many instances, must influence the State hopefully for the best while the State is not permitted any travel in the opposite direction. Religion is the protected entity, not the State. The Founding Fathers meant for the State to be curtailed and directed by people of faith and felt the governance they had set in place was not operable by a people not steeped in religion.

 

We felt it only fitting to end with a series of quotes from the times and persons of the Founding Fathers in their own words.

 

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams
“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.” James Madison
“It may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to usurpation on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against by an entire abstinence of the Govt. from interference in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others.” James Madison
“[Why] should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble. The reverence for the Sacred Book that is thus early impressed lasts long; and probably if not impressed in infancy, never takes firm hold of the mind.” Fisher Ames (author of the final wording for the First Amendment)
“I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence.” Noah Webster (author of the first American Speller and the first Dictionary)
“The American states have gone far in assisting the progress of truth; but they have stopped short of perfection. They ought to have given every honest citizen an equal right to enjoy his religion and an equal title to all civil emoluments, without obliging him to tell his religion. Every interference of the civil power in regulating opinion, is an impious attempt to take the business of the Deity out of his own hands; and every preference given to any religious denomination, is so far slavery and bigotry.” Noah Webster (calling for no religious tests to serve in public office)

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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