Of church and state
Oct. 29, 2009
By Mike Benevento
“Separation of church and state. Separation of church and state.”
Those that strive to remove religion from the public square recite that little ditty over and over again in nauseating fashion. They repeat the phrase so much so that you would think it is a truism dating back to the founding of the United States.
The long forgotten truth is the passage does not appear anywhere in the U.S. Constitution. It never has. It never should.
Contrary to what today’s secularists want you to believe, the United States was founded with a firm reverence to God. The founding fathers were very religious men. They believed God bestowed special blessings upon America, making it an exceptional nation. As such, they were extremely thankful for the many gifts God gave the fledgling state.
Right from the start, the Constitutional framers recognized the importance of faith in everyday life. They knew that a strong spiritual upbringing goes hand-in-hand with being a good citizen. Thus, the government should not restrict religion.
Along with keeping religion free, the founders feared a state-sponsored religion like that which existed in Great Britain at the time. The United Kingdom had recognized the Church of England as its official religion — something the founding fathers wanted to avoid. While most colonialists were Christians, the framers wanted to ensure America did not favor one religion over another.
Wary of government intrusion, the founders limited its power in the U.S. Constitution. Economics professor Walter Williams of George Mason University recently wrote, “At the heart of the American idea is the deep distrust and suspicion the founders of our nation had for government …”
The Bill of Rights — the first 10 amendments to the Constitution — established America’s religious freedom. The First Amendment declares, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
Concerning religion, there are two parts (clauses) to the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause prevents government from creating or recognizing a national religion. The Free Exercise Clause limits government’s restriction of religious activities. As long as people are not doing anything illegal, they are free to worship (or not worship) as they desire.
For over 160 years, the government — especially the courts — respected the spirit and intent of the First Amendment. It did not establish a national religion and religious freedom was not abridged.
According to Blavatsky.net’s Reed Carson, changes started in 1947 as of a result of the Supreme Court’s Everson v. Board of Education decision. Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority, slipped into the opinion a view of his own entirely contradictory to the court’s ruling.
Carson noted that Black added a new and previously unknown legal principle: The first amendment erected a high and impregnable wall between the church and the state. Black based this new dictum on a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to a Connecticut Baptist community. Written 14 years after the First Amendment was passed, Jefferson’s letter celebrated the fact the amendment protected the church from the state.
Jefferson 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 free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
Ironically, as Carson writes, Jefferson’s letter was intended to reassure the Baptists that the new federal government would not endanger the free expression of their religion. The purpose of the wall was to protect the church from the state. It was not, as Black misinterpreted, to protect the state from the church.
Since that fateful Supreme Court decision, government has slowly eroded religious freedom. Instead of the First Amendment, the mystical wall of separation between church and state is commonly cited in court decisions. In fact, many Americans wrongly believe the First Amendment did not protect religious freedom, but instead discussed the separation of church and state.
Today, while an overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God, many secularists are in charge of the country. Secularists, atheists and other non-believers aim to shut religion out of the public sector. They are greatly aided by an upside-down interpretation of the Constitution, which was supposed to protect the church. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the First Amendment is nowadays employed against religious organizations.
Unfortunately, government suppression of religion is one of the best examples of what Professor Williams meant when he wrote, “We are losing what’s made our country great. Instead of moving toward greater liberty, we’re moving toward greater government control of our lives.”
Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor’s degree in Military History and a master’s in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.