Separation of Church and State

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29 thoughts on “Separation of Church and State

  1. Wow, that’s some very twisted reasoning.

    Jefferson writes that there needs to be a wall of separation between church and state. You read that to mean a one directional flow of religion into government and then insert magical thinking to assume that government so infused and overflowing with moral religious influence will then not allow even a single drop of it to seep out. That’s a very funny kind of wall you’ve built in your mind. What do you call it? Is it a ‘wa’? Perhaps a ‘ll’? Whatever it is, it’s not a wall but a filter that cannot possibly work.

    Your thinking mistake is obvious: unlike what you <i.believe to be true, the brute fact of the matter is that we do not get our morals from religion. It’s just that simple, and that truth is devastating to your badly formed opinion here.

  2. Devastating? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Although there are other sources of morality, religion is a source as well. A man should not be required to deny the source of his values, even if it is religion.

  3. Is it? On what do you base the assumption that religion is a ‘source’ of morality? And I love the way you switch ‘morality’ to ‘values’ without batting an eye. So the second question is: on what do you base the assumption that religion is a ‘source’ of values?

    I can prove that morality is not ‘sourced’ from religion, namely, that scripture does not lay down a comprehensive moral template; rather, you cherry pick your scripture to match your morality. Why should anyone lend you any credence whatsoever that if you were to win public office that your morality is any better than mine? If it isn’t any better, then by what right do you exercise your morality through public office without taking into equal account my morality? After all, you hold MY office – an office empowered by my consent to respect and enforce a WALL of separation between church and state. When you argue that wall should be permeable to your religious superstitions, lies, ignorance, and bigotries, you undermine MY rights and freedoms FROM your beliefs.

    What you are actually supporting with your ridiculous interpretation of Jefferson’s letter is undermining YOUR freedom of religion. After all, might you not be upset should a muslim use the power and authority of a public office to insert his version of qu’ranic teachings into laws under which you must live?

    Come on, man. Think beyond your presumed righteous and pious religious beliefs and imagine the same argument put for by a scientologist or jainist or muslim or hindu and figure out ahead of time if your support for their religious beliefs exercised in the public domain through public office serve your freedoms or inhibit them. Clearly, they inhibit your religious freedom in exactly the same way the support you give to your religious beliefs exercised through public office to inhibit MY freedoms.

    Smarten up.

  4. “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship…” is a vital passage in Jeffersonʼs letter, placed carefully at the beginning of the actual argument/content, but disregarded (naturally) by the blogger.

    tideb is correct in assessing the tortured inaccuracy of this post, and the blogger seems driven to impose his personal opinions on the government, contrary to Jeffersonʼs clearly stated position as quoted above. To arbitrarily suggest the opposite, “Jefferson indicates that a man’s religious values are free to infiltrate the government” is to disregard Jeffersonʼs own words. Matters of conscience are personal, and the self, oneʼs own conscience, is the proper realm for such matters. Solely.

    Furthermore, the denial of the Jeffersonian “wall of separation” is rightly and appropriately derided in tildebʼs mock breakage of the word into nonsensical fragments. The wall is a wall. Solely. The weak ratinalizations offered to the contrary are not only unsupported (rather denied) by Jeffersonʼs letter but merely attempt to hocus an airy castle for the bloggerʼs own selfish desires about religion and government.

    Jefferson addresses the whine about personal opinions in public office in his statement about government constituting actions not opinions. The bloggerʼs opinions may drive him to desire a reality in which he may impose his personal wishes on others, but he cannot — “convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” Our social duties are informed by the laws of the land, principally the Constitution. Our third President understood well the strictures of the Constitution, both Article VI and the First Amendment, that inhibit government from interfering in the free practice of religion (even by unpopular minorities like the Baptists or, today, Muslims or the irreligious — such as Jefferson, certainly a radical freethinker, may have been himself) thus the consequent but equal inhibition on any religionists from imposing their singular religion on the rest of the people.

    Jefferson answers the doubts of the Danbury Baptists, a minority denomination fearful of repression by the dominant faith in Massachusetts, about the government someday withdrawing the protection to such groups offered in the First Amendment, which is the rest of his meaning in the closing sentence of the middle paragraph, indicating that our government will not permit the abuse or restriction of minority consciences or religious practices. This postʼs asssertions to the contrary are simply wrong and misconstrue (or else deliberately misread) Jeffersonʼs letter.

    The bloggerʼs wish-fulfilling problem(s) with the Constitution has/have been addressed already in another forum:

    He appears not to have understood the lesson. This post is ill-considered and incorrect, being wholly unJeffersonian and unConstitutional in its merely wishful conclusions.

  5. You say, “Matters of conscience are personal, and the self, oneʼs own conscience, is the proper realm for such matters. Solely.”

    Yet, you use fond words about the constitution and the amendments. The founding fathers put their “matter of conscience” into the constitution. This is undeniably evident by the presence of values in the constitution. This is OK for them to do, but no one else, huh?

    It must anger you to think that religion, more specifically Christianity, played a role in the formation of our founding documents. Many other things played a role in those documents as well, but none anger you as much.

    Why do you deny the values that helped found this government?

  6. I donʼt deny that nonexistant, utterly fantastic “foundation” of Christianity, sir, the Founders did — in creating their thoroughly secular nation/government in the Constitution. To assert otherwise is to deny the Constitution. Article VI — NO religious test whatsoever in this country. None. Everyone gets his or her personal vision (I would say, following Jefferson, so long as they keep it in their hearts where it belongs and are able to restrain themselves from imposing wrongly on others).

    In the part of my comment you questioned, I wasnʼt stating my values, but paraphrasing what Jefferson actually said in the letter: “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship…” (if I could, I would italicize for emphasis, “matter which lies solely between Man & his God” with all caps on SOLELY). Privacy of conscience is the vital double-edged sword on which the nation and the “wall of separation” is built, according to the letter.

    The Framers knew how varied and potentially antagonistic personal beliefs already were in their day (more so since). Therefore they restricted the governmentʼs ability to put anyone on the spot about any religion (Article VI) in any and all governmental matters (which is a pretty broad territory), and stipulated everyoneʼs right to free practice of his or her religion (the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”) so long as said practice does not overstep the establishment clause just quoted. Jeffersonʼs solution to the possible problem, against which you are fuming, is the privacy of conscience on which he founds his argument in the Danbury letter. Jefferson went further to note that personal opinions are not the function of government, but action is. Personal opinions again being personal.

    Strange that you, who are raging so about getting religion into where it Constitutionally does not belong, should accuse me of anger. Our Founding Fathers were a diverse and freethinking lot — radicals and frequently not normative Christians. And the Constitution outraged conservative Fundamentalists in the late 1780s. The role of (any) religion in founding the country was clearly a cautionary lesson about permitting religious zealots too much power…

    One should probably stop chasing his own desires into a delusional unreality and read accurately what the Founders penned, including Jeffersonʼs letter. They donʼt want your religion imposed on the nation (nor Mormonism nor Islam nor Buddhism nor…), and the solution to the problem they invented was to make the nation/government overtly and decidedly secular. Like it or not.

  7. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    -Declaration of Independence

    Many things in this excerpt from the Declaration of Independence are within the realm of “privacy of conscience.” Jefferson put his and other signer’s personal convictions into this founding document. Belief in God, at least to you, is a religious concept. Creation is a religious concept. A Creator is a religious concept. If Jefferson wanted a complete wall of separation he would never have drafted these words. He obviously felt that these shared values ought to be a part of this document and was not a violation of the wall of separation. Hence, personal convictions can be allowed to influence government.

    “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    -Declaration of Independence

    Here, he says personal convictions should alter government if it becomes destructive. How can anyone alter government without bringing personal and shared convictions into the process? The founders left us free to change. It can’t be done if our values can’t affect government.

    The wall is not complete. Many religious values were inserted into this founding document. The wall was meant to protect religious practice, even in government. However, this practice should not, as much as is reasonable, violate the religious practice of another person.

    1. Nice (desperate) try. The term “Creator” was of course carefully chosen as deistically neutral, much like the “Natureʼs God” terminology later — both of which step aside from normative denominational Christianity for what was then a freethinking, liberal and undogmatic antitheology. Your position inserts your own opinions into the Eighteenth Century, unnaturally, and ignores the overt deism in the actual language. And the Fundamentalists had difficulty with the Declaration as well because of its nonbiblical positions and language, even though the rebels tried to talk in what they thought was moderate tones. (Likewise, note that the Declaration has no power of law.) Jefferson makes his position very clear in the letter this blog post chose to mangle, as you evidently realize by changing the topic.

      You keep trying to impose your personal wishful desires on a recalcitrant reality…

    2. Belief is God is by definition, not just “to me,” a definitely and overtly religious concept. It cannot by otherwise. Just what were you thinking?

  8. I’m writing a post on this right now actually. Its more of just copying and pasting from Library of Congress-documents proving the breach of religion into the state.

    Where honestly, it clearly states, Congress get out of the religious system.

  9. Tildeb,

    Did you notice that Jefferson indicates that the source of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are from the creator? Hmmm… Religion is the source of his values.

    1. Indeed. But again, you conflate different words to mean the same thing, in this case rights to equate with values. Because you are determined to link values to mean ‘religion’, you are equally determined to link rights to a ‘creator’. What you fail to do is understand the context of the word creator used by Jefferson to state that we are born with these rights, that get these rights not from some monarch whose authority came from god through a particular church-sanctioned faith was common in the European model but from a different source entirely: himself. Legitimate political authority, Jefferson argued, comes from the consent of the governed and no religion should dare to interfere or impose qualifications on this authority. This was a radical idea at the time. You seem to have great difficulty grasping why.

  10. “Your position inserts your own opinions into the Eighteenth Century, unnaturally, and ignores the overt deism in the actual language.”

    No. Anytime you claim that the source of your values is the creator, you indicate that you have personal knowledge of the character of God. A true Deist would never have asserted values in this founding document, he would have claimed other sources for his values such as empathy, avoidance of suffering, and etc. But, no. He wrote that the creator was the source. This is not “Anti-Theology” as you claim it to be.

    The presence of values written by Jefferson inserted into the Declaration of Independence which he claimed came from the creator indicates an incomplete wall of separation. We are free to exercise our religion in government office. Jefferson did.


    Values do not always mean religion.

    You said,

    “Legitimate political authority, Jefferson argued, comes from the consent of the governed”

    Yes. If you think otherwise, you are not following Christian teaching. God has no interest in setting up a theocracy. His dominion is in the hearts of men. The hearts of men, however, are allowed to insert their values into government.

    I believe in Article VI as well. There should be no religious test for public office. But, religious people in office are free to exercise their religion as long as it does not reasonably interfere with other religious practices.

    1. It must be comforting to speak on god’s behalf about his interests, about what is and is not his dominion.

      How can you not see just how incredibly arrogant you must be to write such things? The truth is you haven’t a clue what god’s interests are. You haven’t a clue what is dominion is. You bear false witness by assuming you do.

      Now go and sin no more.

      1. God’s interest are outlined in scripture. Daniel’s assertions here are not implausible according to scripture.

    2. Re your second paragraph in the reply above — exactly my point: injecting YOUR OPINION (apologies for the excessive caps, but lacking italics or boldface…) into what was an Eighteenth Century set of words that clearly distinguished “Natureʼs God” (wording adopted by Jefferson — the real one, not the fantasy of your imagination — out of Spinoza!) from the hidebound/Fundamentalist concept you apparently have twitching in your mind. Deism was a freethinking middle ground that permitted doubters and radicals to use what appeared to be traditional theological jargon (“Creator,“ but deistically absent from, thoroughly uninvolved with and utterly disinterested in the universe and its multiplicit creatures, if such a power even existed — a lot like the preparticle physics behind the Big Bang in modern terms) while absolutely denying the directly-experienced-personal-god notion, precisely NOT what you are ranting above. Apparently, you have foolishly permitted someone tell you what they wanted deism to be instead of reading for yourself. However, even in contemporary terms, you may check it out:

      Once again, blogger, you deliberately misread to justify your own preconceived (and apparently adamant) wishes. Rational discourse actually requires the possibility for facts to persuade to truth.

      And merely repeating what has been discredited already doesnʼt make it any less false or unconstitutional (the rest of the reply).

      And, even if your astonishing inventions were real, the Founders, including in particular Jefferson, chose conscientiously to overtly withdraw any and all religious jargon from the actual legal document establishing the nation, the Constitution, having realized that the invasion of government by religious prejudice would, as you repeatedly demonstrate, lead directly to totalitarianism (as all religious states have been) and tyranny, exactly the conditions they had fought to live in freedom from. Thus the necessary (and actual) secularity of the state. (And also why Jefferson insisted upon the maintenance of oneʼs personal quirks of religious opinion to oneself. “Solely.”)

  11. Woody,

    Either the insertion of values taken from a creator is a breach of the wall of complete separation between church and state or it is not. I have asserted that it is, and I do not come to it by jumping to conclusions. If the same thing was done today, people would undoubtedly refer back to the wall of separation and dutifully erase this religious concept from any government documents.

    However, it astounds me that you speak favorably of deism, almost as if you do not consider it a breach of the wall. In your words, “Belief in God is by definition, not just “to me,” a definitely and overtly religious concept.” Do you accept the insertion of religious values into this founding document if done by deism? Deism is belief in God.

    As a side note, if you are somewhat but not completely dismissive of the Declaration of Independence as a document worth debating the “wall” over, then I can be equally dismissive of the letter written to the danbury baptists since it is not a legal document either.

    1. Dude, you brought TJʼs letter here to start this whole thing. Incredible. Nothing in your reply adds up to anything. My remark on theodicy was questioning what it appeared you were accusing me of several replies ago, unrelated whatsoever to what you are suggesting above. typcial of your reading/argumentation techniques, I have discovered now, wearied of mere repetition.

      The Declaration is deistic in language = not your “religious values” whatsoever. Did you read my summary, two above? Did you check the link? Clearly not. Head in sand, shouting to yourself.

      Even if your idle, wishfulfillment daydreams about the Declaration had any reality (which they do not), in creating an actual legal document, our Constitution, the Founders shunned all religion. QED.

      1. “the Founders shunned all religion.”

        This is a 100 percent statement. Are you certain of it? There are more than 100 (200?) recognizable founding fathers. Most of whom were quite religious. Even Jefferson had a belief in God of some kind. \

        To say they shunned religion is inaccurate. What they shunned was laws that would prop up or shut down the freedom to worship in any way an individual may choose. This is the whole point behind the first amendment. In the same amendment is the right of free speech which is necessary to ensure no one religion would be lawfully enhanced or maimed by government mandate.

  12. Not to mention “redress of grievances.” The use of the word grievances here is enigmatic – on purpose. It means the government may lawfully be petitioned on any subject.

    Let’s take the issue of crosses on public property. A person or group may petition the government to disallow the placement on public property of religious symbols like crosses on the grounds that it violates the first amendment. Another person or group may petition the government for the right to place crosses or other religious symbols on public property on the grounds that it is free speech and therefore is protected by the first amendment.

    The government has to decide and according to the constitution there is only one requirement – either all religions can use the grounds for the placing of religious symbols or none can. It is quite constitutional to do both. The only thing that would be unconstitutional would be to rule that only one specific religion could place a religious symbol there or that only one specific religion could not place a religious symbol there.

  13. I was going to resist, blogger, but your misreadings are simply too overpoweringly peculiar. Now you fail even to read my statements correctly.

    I wrote: “in creating an actual legal document, our Constitution, the Founders shunned all religion. QED.”

    You somehow attempt to distort that remark about the nature of the document, the Constitution (about which I believe in your latter paragraph you — now? — seem to agree with me), into some kind of wickedly supernatural ability, which I decidedly lack, to have insight into the minds of guys dead these two hundred years, a power you grant yourself, by the way… Clearly and overtly, I was only referring to the statements contained in the Constitution, not the secret murmurings of anyoneʼs private and personal conscience, the role of which Jefferson and I have also been clear.

    The Constitution excludes religion from public life/government and as well government regulation of any and all religions (or none). The principle does pose a balancing act, which must totter in favor of free practice of all religions and none, thanks to the First Amendment — therefore the secularity of the Constitution and the state it created. For only in a secular state may every/any religion coexist (unarguably, a religious state would impose itself in any number of ways; and I already mentioned the direct threat of religious totalitarianism, from which a good number of the Foundersʼ forefathers had fled), and thus the import and the importance of Article VI.

    Federal laws and judicial decisions since the Constitution was put into effect — according to the Constitution and the powers granted to the branches of government — define the exact nature of the Jeffersonian “separation between church and state,” although special preference to or importance of any particular religion is forbidden.

    (And,Tim, although your first paragraph seems unnecessary, your point is exactly correct from the latter two paragraphs.)

    —30 —

  14. I’m glad we agree.

    I apparently misinterpreted your intentions regarding what you wrote. I acknowledge this.

    However, I want to set the record straight about myself. I grant myself no ability to read the minds of anyone including the founders. When I say most of them were religious, I am not stating my opinion. I am stating an historical fact. The record is out there. I’m not just making it up to support some fantastical idea of a theocratic future. It’s just a fact. It’s documented.

  15. Prohibiting prayer in schools, for example, is prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

    No, it’s not. It’s prohibiting the government, through the schools, from students being told that they must pray. As it stands, no law prevents a student from praying by themselves or with friends, even on school grounds, and atheist though I am, I’d fight a law banning such a thing.

    Also, of course, there’s one other major problem with prayers in schools, and that’s this: what prayers, to what god, of what religion? Christianity? Ok, which sect? Catholic? Eastern Orthodox? Protestants are their own mess, since there’s about a gazillion different protestant sects. And what if the teacher was Muslim, trying to lead the children in prayers to Allah five times daily? I’m sure that wouldn’t go over well.

    No, neutrality on religion is the only sensible course for the government to take.

  16. Chris,

    I agree with your first paragraph. To mandate that students pray would be forcing religion on others and would constitute a kind of government religion though not full blown.

    To prohibit prayer of any kind at any time during school would also constitute a kind of atheistic government which would have the same tyrranical effect as a government religion. This was the spirit of the sentence you quoted above, though I realize it could be taken the way you took it. Alas, language is not perfect.

    I would prefer the government be permissive of religion which may have been what you meant by neutral.

  17. I wrote about the separation of Church and State right after the Coons / O’Donnell debate for Delaware’s open Senate seat:

    After the link below, the text is part of a post I wrote this evening.

    “One cannot fairly assume that the global population accepts one’s religious desires, and I can safely say that Sombra won’t get his / her way. Keep your religion out of my government – which is all the realist wants – and I’ll keep my government out of your religion. The United States Founding Fathers all felt that religion was a deeply personal matter, and that those who chose to believe should pretty much keep it to themselves. This is not that far removed from the Gnostic Christians, who rejected the idea of dominance in religion, opting instead for an independent and personal relationship with God, free from dogma and doctrine, which, of course, necessarily means no ministerial organizational structure. (There is not a single modern Christian denomination that promotes this, because it defeats the idea of top-down dominance. The little people must be controlled.)”

    No one says that an anti-realist can’t vote his / her conscience, nor are they prohibited from exercising that worldview when elected to public office. However, the courts provide a backstop to ensure that religion can be freely practiced – in private, as Thomas Jefferson believed – while not trouncing on the liberties of others.

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