Is it the complete separation between church and state? Even Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists didn’t completely define the “wall” he talked about. The wall itself seems to be penetrated at times by Jefferson’s own words in the Declaration of Independence which reveals that the source of life, freedom, and man’s ability to be happy comes from the Creator.
In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance allowed for the creation of five states, of which, Ohio was first. The ordinance states, “No person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments, in the said territory.” This predates the First Amendment to the US Constitution which was adopted in 1791. This ordinance provided for religious freedom in the territory. It further states that religion and morality are to be taught. Article three says, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” From reading the ordinance, it is obvious that this “religion and morality” was taught in public schools and paid for with public taxes.
The constitution of Massachusetts written in 1780 by John Adams asserts, “As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of the public instructions in piety, religion, and morality.” It goes on to instruct that groups, political bodies, and religious societies should carry out this public worship authorized through the legislature.
Are these legal documents breaching the “wall of separation” that Jefferson talks about? Do they violate the First Amendment? Or do these writers and framers of legal documents and constitutions understand better than we do the proper relationship between church and state? A comparison of public scenes from the 18th century and today shows us that the former had greater religious freedom than the modern people of today. I postulate that this wall of separation as is thought of in the modern sense actually inhibits the freedom of expression and freedom of worship. If you doubt my statement and begin to invoke the undefined “wall”, consider if you will ever hear in your lifetime, a speech from a government official with these words:
“I congratulate the people of the United States on the assembling of Congress at the permanent seat of their government; and I congratulate you, gentlemen, on the prospect of a residence not to be exchanged. It would be unbecoming the representatives of this nation to assemble for the first time in this solemn temple without looking up to the Supreme Ruler of the universe and imploring his blessing. You will consider it as the capitol of a great nation, advancing with unexampled rapidity in arts, in commerce, in wealth, and in population, and possessing within itself those resources which, if not thrown away or lamentably misdirected, will secure to it a long course of prosperity and self-government. May this territory be the residence of virtue and happiness! In this city may piety and virtue, that wisdom and magnanimity, that constancy and self-government, which adorned the great character whose name it bears, be forever held in veneration! Here, and throughout our country, may simple manners, pure morals, and true religion forever flourish.”
I submit to you, the reader, we have lost some freedom when any religious expression in public places and public institutions is allowed to be defeated by a “wall”.