To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
The affectionate sentiments 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, & 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 & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, 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. 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 & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
Jan. 1. 1802.
-Retrieved from the Library of Congress.
Jefferson indicates that a man’s religious values are free to infiltrate the government, but the government is not free to infiltrate the man’s religious values. And why should the man who gets into office, deny the origin of his values? There is no reason. To require him to be morally indifferent is to prohibit him from the free exercise of his religion. Further, the government should not establish or endorse a religion as the state religion. But, religion is still free to affect the government. This being evidenced by the guarantee that government shall not prohibit the free exercise thereof. Prohibiting prayer in schools, for example, is prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The wall of separation Jefferson refers to is meant to protect the person’s free exercise, not the government’s will upon religion. The complete separation between church and state is never played out practically, and is unreasonable to expect. This is not what Jefferson intended. The wall was there for religious benefit, not the government’s benefit.
What about discrimination? Someone’s values are always hindering someone else’s values all the time. Discrimination is a byproduct of every law on the books and every new “right” that is endorsed. Those who cry about discrimination simply want to impose a different set of values on society. There’s no getting around discrimination.
“Who says that the separation of Church and State precludes the moral values of anyone?”
It precludes the moral values of religious people. Complete separation between church and state provides complete moral freedom to influence government only to non-religious people. Only atheists would be qualified to run for office. Jefferson himself was religious. Was he saying that he was unfit to lead the country? No. He was our third president.