Separation of Church and State

WHCrossA misinterpretation of the Constitution’s first amendment clause commonly known as the “Establishment Clause” often causes the misunderstanding of separation of church and state. The face our Nation presents to the rest of the world is not that of what we purport to be our beliefs as a united people.

According to Thomas Jefferson in the letter, he wrote to the Danbury Baptists:

Messrs. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, and Stephen s. Nelson

A Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, in the State of Connecticut.

Washington, January 1, 1802

Gentlemen,–The affectionate sentiment 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, and 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 and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, 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. 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 and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect and esteem.

(Thomas Jefferson, MS, January 1, 1802)

While supporting the rights of religious groups and his own personal convictions, Jefferson clearly spells out his belief that there is no room for the Church to dictate government policy. Religion is a personal decision that influenced by legislation or legislators at any level of government is a cheap shot to anyone not believing the same as their neighbors. Our government should preserve and protect the Establishment Clause because the animosity and tension created do nothing positive for our living environment; its current state makes us look like hypocrites to the international community, and reduces personal convictions into bartering chips for politicians.

When the pilgrims left Europe to establish communities in the New World, the religious persecution they were running from was not what we think of it today. Not subjected under Sharia laws, required to attend a specific church, attend all services, or even forced conversion like the peoples of Constantinople. According to Jonathan Kirsch, “The remarkable saga of how Christianity rose from a persecuted cult to the state religion of imperial Rome begins with a slightly bawdy tale about a general and an innkeeper’s daughter.” (Kirsch 119) What they wanted to get away from was the Theocracy Europe had become. Government to them was for the people, by the people. Not for the aristocracy, by the divinely given right of nobility.

The Middle Eastern countries refer to the United States as the Great Satan. It is not a far fetch from the truth. Our TV shows present the absolute worst aspects of our day-to-day life as well the corruption in our government. Journalistic Media cannot devote to impartiality, nor can they back a particular side since our political atmosphere flips so often. Social Media has made the world a much smaller place. The bullying that goes on in this cyber environment presents a face to the rest of the world of a petty, unmotivated, lazy people, with no regard for their fellow man. Even before our precious internet, in the eyes of our allies and opponents, our government’s face has been in the mud since the Clinton administration. Hypocrisy is feigning to be something other than the truth. It is not just a deception of your religious beliefs, but your own definition of who you are as a person. This hypocrisy abounds from the highest levels of government to local officials.

Politicians use the convictions of their constituents to get votes, not for the best of their community. Naturally, this leads them to be charlatans who trade favors with each other for votes with no regard for their bartering effects. Before any election, the current political temperature drives a religious topic inserted into the debate. Just like any internet discussion, certain topics can totally derail discourse on much more important issues. In the political arena, this is Spin. Any time a subject that not thoroughly discussed or a proper decision that will not alienate constituents; a professional politician can turn on the religious rhetoric and never have to answer the uncomfortable question. It may spark debate with his opponent over that particular aspect of religion, but it does nothing to improve society, our way of life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. As Jean Jacques Rousseau explains, entry of a religious sovereign brings with it the extension of their people’s tolerance or intolerance of their neighbors:

AT first men had no kings save the gods, and no government save theocracy. They reasoned like Caligula, and, at that period, reasoned aright. It takes a long time for feeling so to change that men can make up their minds to take their equals as masters, in the hope that they will profit by doing so. From the mere fact that God was set over every political society, it followed that there were as many gods as peoples. Two peoples that were strangers the one to the other, and almost always enemies, could not long recognise the same master: two armies giving battle could not obey the same leader. National divisions thus led to polytheism, and this in turn gave rise to theological and civil intolerance, which, as we shall see hereafter, are by nature the same. The fancy the Greeks had for rediscovering their gods among the barbarians arose from the way they had of regarding themselves as the natural Sovereigns of such peoples. (119)

In conclusion, the rights of our nation hinge upon the fact that we have a wall of separation between church and state. Not only does this protect our religions from interference by the government from the second part of the establishment clause, it protects the government from undue pressure into making improper or unwise laws. Without a strengthening of that wall of separation, our enemies abroad will continue to see us as hypocrites with no moral compass other than the greed so prominently displayed in our news media. Finally, political debates barring all inclusion of subjects deemed religiously provocative would make for better decisions by the electorate. No decision made under emotional duress will carry on past the lectern. Perhaps this is the reason why so many of our elected officials cannot carry out their promises. Protection and preservation of the Establishment Clause should be the number one priority of lawmakers who intend our nation to coalesce into a strong world power, reduce the ire of our enemies, and bring the country back to a situation of by the people and for the people.

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Works Cited

  1. Jefferson, Thomas.  Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists. U.S. Library of Congress. – Retrieved 2006-11-31. – This document is a cornerstone in the revolution of our political and governmental history. The letter was a response to the Baptist community asking why he did not proclaim holidays for religious purposes such as fasting and thanksgiving. It is the basis for our Establishment clause, known commonly as “Separation of Church and State.” Jefferson strongly believed in what he was saying and consulted other politicians for guidance on not offending his constituents. Revised by Jefferson to prevent misinterpretation as a personal letter and strongly word his view that neither Congress nor the Executive office should have anything to do with establishing religion in government. I will be using this as an example of the nation’s founders’ view of the law. This is a document registered with the library of congress and is incontrovertible evidence of one of Jefferson’s opinion. Others could use this for argument for releasing the stringency of separation by twisting the semantics of the letter to their own purposes.
  2. Kirsch, Jonathan. God against the Gods. United States: Penguin Group, 2004. “Print” – This book is a reference demonstrating the history of religion from deities to the current atmosphere of a single deity. The book outlines how the confiscation of other religions’ holidays show the earliest usurping of past religions to convert new followers. Conversion of altars and small temples develop druidic beliefs into the next evolution of religion. It also gives examples of the decision to make the modern bible Canon. It charts the rise and demise of monotheistic and polytheistic governments from ~1364 (B.C.E) up until 415(C.E.) This history would be advantageous to anyone studying the progression of religion along the great ancient powers of the world. Others could use it for proof of the strength of Christianity to overcome weaker and less structured religions. I will be using this to show examples of the history of Christianity’s rise to power among medieval times and the effects on government bodies.
  3. Rousseau, Jean Jacques (2010-12-29). The Social Contract (p. 119). . Kindle Edition. – A revolutionary political reform catalyst, this book explores many aspects of governing and government. Rousseau explains in clear words a separation of governing and governance. The idea of governance being separate from the body of the governed and the governed being the ones in power is Rousseau’s point. The book contains four parts, each developing through levels of governance. First as the very existence of a sentient being, rising through peer interactions, into a discussion of governance, then ending with that government controlled by the body of governed. Different types of governments are discussed with how outside influences affect them. Anyone studying forms of government or the effects of outside influence on government would benefit from the philosophies it holds. I will be using this book to reference violence created by the inclusions of deity worship into government. War and religion stem from the same concepts and are more the same than dislike.

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Written by Lee Williams

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