The Separation of Church and State

Study Guide Illustration, p1

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” - John Adams, October 11, 1798

In order to understand what the concept of “The Separation of Church and State” is, we must first understand what it is not. For example, this phrase is not found in the Declaration of Independence, nor is it in our Constitution (despite the many people who mistakenly claim that it is). In fact, “Separation of Church and State” was never affirmed as a “Founding Principle” at all, but rather comes from a letter written by President Thomas Jefferson in response to a question from the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut. The Danbury Baptists had written to the newly-elected Jefferson, expressing their fears that the United States Government could take away the right to Freedom of Religion, and establish a state-run faith as had happened in England with the Anglican Church. The Danbury Baptists feared that some day America would repress the free expression of religion for certain denominations (like Baptists or Congregationalists).

President Jefferson tried to allay their fears in his responding letter of January 1, 1802 where he wrote:

“…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 and State.”

By this, Thomas Jefferson clearly meant that the First Amendment was put in place to prevent the Federal government from infringing on the free expression of religion, not to keep religion from being expressed in the public square, or from having a place in governmental life. Today, atheists, secularists and anti-American organizations like the ACLU and the Freedom From Religion Foundation twist the meaning of President Jefferson's words. For example, on the website for the Freedom From Religion Foundation, they deliberately misrepresent the phrase, when they state that their goal is to “...promote the constitutional principle of separation between church and state”. Theirs is a selfish attempt to remove God from today's America, and to erase our Christian Heritage from our history books. And, sadly, most Americans are too ill-informed to recognize that this is being done.

“The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.” - George Washington (General Order), July 9, 1776

On September 7, 1774, when the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, they started the tradition (which is still observed to this day) of opening with a prayer. Leading was a local Episcopal clergyman named Rev. Jacob Duché who read several prayers with the assembled group, which included General George Washington, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry. Rev. Duché also read the entire text of Psalm 35, which was the Episcopal Church's Scripture reading for the day, and which includes this passage: “Plead my cause, Oh Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help.” This reading so moved the men assembled, that John Adams wrote these words in a letter to his wife Abigail: “I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning...It had an excellent effect on everybody here. I must beg you to read that Psalm.”

“I've lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing Proofs I see of this Truth — That God governs in the Affairs of Men.” - Benjamin Franklin, June 28, 1787

God is mentioned four times in the Declaration of Independence, and in the last line, His actual direct intervention is specifically called for by the writers with these words: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Not exactly the kind of phrasing you would expect from neutral “Deists”, but the kind that is perfectly compatible with the beliefs of practising Christians. In fact, of the 56 men who signed that document, 24 held seminary degrees and many were active ministers. Direct quotes from the Bible and mentions of God are in many of our legal documents, carved in our public monuments and buildings, and were used constantly in the writings of our Founding Fathers. The Charter of Rhode Island from 1663 had a “religious liberties” clause so that residents “...may be in the better capacity to defend themselves, in their just rights and liberties, against all the enemies of the Christian Faith.” Even the Liberty Bell has the following Biblical passage engraved on it:

“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all inhabitants thereof.” Leviticus 25:10.

It should also be mentioned that before and during the American Revolution, pastors and preachers routinely stoked the fires of dissent from their pulpits, and even lead their Congregations into battle on many occasions (for example, the Rev. Jonas Clark died in battle while leading his flock on Lexington Green). Many of these men initially left England, when King George demanded that they purchase “licenses” for permission to preach in the State-sponsored churches there. Once coming to America, where they were free from such constraints, they were not about to compromise the cause of religious freedom.

They came to be known as “The Black Regiment” (originally a derisive term attributed to a “Tory” named Peter Oliver) because of the black robes they wore when they preached. The Black Regiment was not a real “regiment” at all; rather the term refers to the clergymen of the colonies. And these men were so effective at raising volunteers for the militia and keeping the people aware of the threats to their liberties, that they were specifically targeted by the British army during the Revolutionary War. And if they were captured during a battle, these brave clergymen received the harshest of treatment from their captors. The British would even use Christian Churches to stable their horses when occupying Colonial towns. But they failed to intimidate these courageous pastors, and it is truly said that were it not for these fiery men of Faith, America might still be a colony of Great Britain.

One of the most famous “members” of The Black Regiment was Lutheran Pastor John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg. When Gen. George Washington himself asked Pastor Muhlenberg to raise and lead the 8th Virginia Regiment of volunteers, Pastor Muhlenberg agreed. The day he was to leave and take his command, Pastor Muhlenberg delivered a powerful sermon from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, where it states that there is a “...time for war and a time for peace”. The Pastor then solemnly stated “...there is a time to fight – and that time has now come!”, and he threw off his black robe to reveal the uniform of a Virginia Colonel. Grabbing the musket he had hidden behind his pulpit, Pastor Muhlenberg led his men from the church.

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty - as well as the privilege and interest - of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians as their rulers.” - United States Founding Father, John Jay, October 12, 1816

Our First Patriots were mostly devout Christians who wished that their faith and love of God be interwoven into the actual framework of the United States of America, both in private and public life. To declare otherwise with the flimsy “evidence” used by today's aetheists and secularists, is a blatant and deceitful untruth. We would do well to remember the words of revivalist Charles G. Finney who wrote in “The Decay of Conscience” in 1873:

Brethren, our preaching will bear its legitimate fruits. If immorality prevails in the land, the fault is ours in a great degree. If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the public press lacks moral discrimination, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it. If the world loses its interest in religion, the pulpit is responsible for it. If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it. If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it. Let us not ignore this fact, my dear brethren; but let us lay it to heart, and be thoroughly awake to our responsibility in respect to the morals of this nation.

With these words, Finney was placing the responsibility on the clergy and the church members to ensure that the government maintains a firm moral base, and that our representatives don't stray from traditional Christian values.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are you aware of any ways in which the Christian Faith has been kept out of the public square? Do you think there are more or fewer instances of this during the Christmas Season? Give some examples.
  2. Do you think that men like George Washington or John Adams would have wanted to have depictions of the Ten Commandments on display in a local state or county courthouse? in public schools? Why or why not?
  3. Check your State's Constitution, and read the Preamble. Then read the Preamble of any of the other 50 States, and you will see that each and every one mentions God; either thanking Him for His blessings, or invoking His guidance and protection. Why do you think that so many different writers over so many years all chose to begin their state constitutions in this way?
  4. What do you think of the men of The Black Regiment? What role do you think our churches should play today in our Nation's government? in politics? in the Culture War?

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