Separation of Church & State




Jefferson’s intention was to separate church and state to support and promote religious freedom:

It was  not to diminish it.

Jefferson separated Church and State to ensure that all people could enjoy religious worship of their choice. Two key 1801 letters show Jefferson’s purpose was religious freedom  — one by the Danbury Baptist Association  asking for religions freedom, and the second letter by Jefferson responding affirmatively.  Let’s scrutinize the letters closely.

Paragraph by Jefferson in reply to the Danbury Baptists who asked for religious freedom:

….”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. Th Jefferson       Jan. 1. 1802″

It is important for us to understand that the motive behind the separation of church and state by Jefferson  was religious freedom and not the opposite.  Interestingly, “Separation of Church and State” is not in our national Constitution — not in word or indirectly  implied.  Yet, in many of the political arguments and campaigns used by the  opposition, it is treated as if it is law, and suggested that the original intention of Jefferson was to minimize religion. Their misrepresentations have been used and continue to be used to justify the below:

  • Force religion out of the public square and especially out of global affairs, and policies such as healthcare — as is currently happening with the Obamacare HHS Mandates. 
  • Publish propaganda that religious people are fanatical, intolerant of diversity, and obstacles to  the implementation of governmental procedures and policies — pointing to the “tea party movement” as an example.
  • Define pro-life people and groups as being religious fanatics and terrorists — subject to surveillance and restrictions of  freedom of speech.
  • Keep new pro-life candidates from winning office and contributing to the resolution of pro-life issues such as abortion, same sex attraction, physician assisted suicide, euthanasia, cloning, embryonic stem cell, contraceptives, IVF, and parents rights.

Commentary by RJ&L Religious Liberty Lawyers

Their archived documents state emphatically that Jefferson’s  letter was  intended to assure the Danbury Baptists that he would support their rights to religious freedom — and that the American people would not pass legislation that promoted one religion  over others or prevented the exercise of religion. It also offers  good reasons to dispel all doubts:

In 1803, one year after the Danbury letter, Jefferson made a treaty with the   Kaskaskia Indians, wherein he pledged money to build them a Roman Catholic   Church and to support their priests — all from federal funds. (We accidentally hit on another issue here — how did the IRS get the right to prohibit churches from supporting candidates under penalty of withholding federal funds? It’s joyful  to read history and  get the truth!) Jefferson   apparently saw no conflict between asking Congress to implement the treaty’s   provisions by appropriating funds, and the prohibition that “Congress shall make   no law respecting an establishment of religion . . .”

In addition, Jefferson   signed three extensions of “An act regulating the grants of land appropriated   for Military Services, and for the Society of the United Brethren for   propagating the Gospel among the Heathen.” This act granted free of charge   titles to sections of land to the United Brethren. In addition to holding the   land in trust for Indians who were already Christians, the United Brethren used   resources derived from cultivating and leasing the land to send out missionaries   to proselyte among the non-Christian Indians. Once again, had Jefferson been an   absolutist, as the Everson Court suggests, he would have vetoed not one,   but all three extensions of this act.

Other support given by Jefferson gave to the Roman Catholic Church.

Some reporters of that time said Jefferson was an atheist.  Perhaps.  Yet, he shows here a respect for religions and human religious rights.   For further reading, see The Danbury Baptist Association Correspondence.  And, just to be sure we realize that Jefferson supported religious freedom — including in classrooms  — read several paragraphs from “

When the use of the Bible was threatened to be diminished by an   abundance of new textbooks available around 1800, prominent American educators   spoke up to ensure the Bible’s place as America’s premier textbook. Fisher Ames,   an educator and prominent statesman, said, “[I]f these [new] books … must be   retained, as they will be, should not the Bible regain the place it once held as   a school book?” In a widely   distributed pamphlet, Benjamin Rush (the “father of public schools under the   Constitution” as well as a signer of America’s Declaration of Independence)   argued from reason and revelation for the continued use of the Bible as a   schoolbook.

Even Thomas Jefferson was involved in religious aspects of   education, for while US president, he made the Bible a primary reading text for   Washington, D.C., schools.

Noah Webster, one of the greatest of American educators, wrote an   appendix to his 1832 school history text reminding students of the importance of   the Scriptures, and warned that “miseries and evils” result from a lack of   following the Bible. In 1844 the US   Supreme Court ruled that a college could not be built that excluded teachings from the Bible.

In fact, it was the  lawyer and senator, Daniel Webster, the famous “defender of the Constitution,”  who argued before the Supreme Court that Christianity is inseparable from education.

What has happened. How did we stray so far?