Before coming to live in this great nation, I read through the Constitution, in an attempt to make sense of what makes this country tick.
Recently, however, I have come to the conclusion that many – if not most – Americans – have not read their founding documents, and don’t know what they say. Apparently too many of us rely on the talking heads at CNN to be our interpreters of Constitutional law.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the “Constitutional Separation of Church and State” that I hear bandied about on a weekly basis. The phrase is normally used to justify the removal of some religious reference or practice from our Government.
There is only one thing wrong with the “Separation of Church and State” in the Constitution: There is no such thing. Really. Check the constitution for yourself. The phrase is not found anywhere in there. The only place where religion is even mentioned is in the First Amendment, which says: “Congress will make no law regarding the establishment of Religion, and the free exercise thereof“.
There. That’s it.
So where does the term “Separation of Church and State” originally come from? I’m glad you asked. The phrase was used by Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to a Baptist Preacher. The Preacher was worried about had Governmental interfering in the Church, and Jefferson used the famous phrase in his reply, to settle the Preacher’s doubts and fears.
This nation was founded on a premise of Religious freedom (which is not the same as freedom from religion – all of the founders, without exception, were churchmen), and the purpose of the First Amendment was to enshrine that freedom in to law.
One of the big worries at the time of the birth of the Republic was that the Government would start a “State Religion”, emulating the British Monarch, who was also head of the Church of England. To counter this, a simple and explicit idea was put into the Constitution – an enjoinder for the Government to stay “out of the Religion Business”. It was never intended to be used to keep religion or religious ideas out of Government, even though the Supreme Court has interpreted it to mean precisely that on several occasions.
So what does this have to do with displaying the Ten Commandments on Government Property? Absolutely nothing. And yet this phrase is used in an attempt to “keep religion out of Government”, even though there is not evidence that this was the view if the Founders – and plenty of evidence to the contrary.
Think about it; the framers of the Constitution were, to a man, churchmen, if not Christians. Every last one of them claimed to believe in a Creator of the Universe and everything in it. The most irreligious of the lot of them was probably Benjamin Franklin, who summed up his beliefs with the following words:
“Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshiped… that the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see.”
By our definition, he is hardly what one would call a Christian (after all, he considered Jesus to me a great moral leader, and not the Son of God – an attitude he shares with Muslims), but can hardly be considered an atheist by any stretch of the imagination. Like many of us, he believed in God, but preferred to reserve judgment as to which particular group of his followers were right.
So where does this leave us? There are some who would prefer the removal of any item of religious significance from all government property and practice.
Those well-meaning folks seem blissfully unaware that the “inalienable rights” that we enjoy are “endowed” to us by our creator. Remove the possibility of a creator and your rights disappear in a puff of logic.
They do not want freedom of religion; they want freedom from religion, or at least freedom from Christian influences.
Whether they would treat a Muslim or a Hindu in the same way is debatable.