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Every day, you hear it at work or while travelling to and from work. Or you read it on the net. Or hear pundits speak of it on TV or the radio. We’re bombarded with it: “The Constitution . . . states there is to be separation between Church and State.”
But that’s not 100% accurate, not the inference anyway. To hear them speak of it, there’s a clause or pronouncement that, specifically, states: “Separation of Church and State.” There isn’t.
In all actuality, the commonly misplaced ‘constitutional phrasing’ regarding religion was first used by Thomas Jefferson. (And there’s a good chance Jefferson got the inkling for the phrase from Charles de Montesquieu, and, to point, there’s no mention of the phrase in the Federalist Papers.) The present concept of non-spiritual government, that’s usually attributed to the phrase, appeared in the writings of English philosopher John Locke, but even he didn’t use the phrase “separation of Church and State”
When did Jefferson say it and why? Jefferson parallels a statement by Roger Williams, who was the founder of the first Baptist church in America. Williams wrote in 1644:
“[A] hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”
Jefferson had written in a letter on January 1, 1802:
“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.”
So why all this huff and puff about “separation of Church and State”?
It really depends on which way one leans. Those who lean left use the phrase to slight person(s) who bring religion or even religious morality into the operation of the Government. President George W. Bush was considered ‘dumb’ or less enlightened because he spoke of his beliefs and their use in his decision making. More to the point, those on the left insist on separation when any type of religious morality is directed at abortion, or gay rights or any host of social issues where they feel religion has no place. While those on the right use the phrase to wall off and protect them from government intrusion. We hear a lot about separation with respect to school prayer or displays of the Ten Commandments.
Is it possible they’re both right? Or perhaps they’re both wrong?
If one digs into the Establishment Clause, he will note it has two limited interpretations and both are prohibitive. First, the clause prohibits the establishment of a national religion by Congress. Second, the clause prohibits the preference by the U.S. government of one religion over another. The first approach is called the “separation” interpretation, while the second approach is called the “non-preferential” interpretation. It makes sense, Congress should not be allowed to dictate or establish a religion, nor should it pay favoritism to any religion. Nowhere in the interpretation does it spell out what so many modern citizens, pundits, and politicians declare the phrase ‘separation between Church & State’ to mean.
For a clearer view point, we should delve into the minds of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Given recent events, it must be our general assumption that the delegates were concerned about gay marriage or prayer in schools. Or is it more likely, they were concerned about the abuse of rights the Federalist insisted we be protected from? It was, after all, the Federalist who analyzed possible abuse by an all powerful government and demanded the Bill of Rights.
The problem isn’t the phrase or the first amendment. The problem is the widespread use of political correctness as a pejorative ideology. Now, abuse and force, have been equated with discomfort. We should move past this urge to attach the separation of Church and State phrase to every morality issue that arises out of Washington. Neither the actual phrase nor its supporting clauses were meant to persuade anyone, they were meant to protect us from the government.
On a side note: One of the most knowledgeable men on this topic is, without a doubt, Mark Levin. Mark Levin knows the birth of this nation better than any other person I follow on twitter and his book, Liberty and Tyranny, is an excellent read.
Sure, Mr. Levin is a radio personality and an opinionated one at that, but both the left and right would learn a great deal by reading Liberty and Tyranny.