Judges are ordering the removal of crosses from war memorials. Ten Commandment sculptures are being removed from court houses. Nativity Scenes have been removed from a great many town commons. Members of state and local governments are being barred from opening meetings with prayers. Religious statements are being banned from school graduations. This is just a small sample of instances where public displays of religion are being removed and members of government are being prevented from freely exercising their religious beliefs in public. The battle cry for this war on public displays of religion is always the same; there is a separation of Church and State which is supposed to be an integral part of the US Constitution. This phrase cannot be found anywhere in the Constitution yet, according to David Barton from the organization Wall Builders; it has been cited in over 4000 cases.
The Supreme Court Case Everson vs. Board of Education in 1947 marked the beginning of this war on public displays of religion. Here is an excerpt from that ruling.
Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.
To create such a sweeping new constitutional doctrine, Justice Hugo Black borrowed that phrase from a personal letter rather that Constitution itself. That letter was from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association. Here is the text of that letter:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and 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 and 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.
As you can see from the letter, the mechanism Jefferson mentioned for erecting that wall between church and state is the actual text of the First Amendment religion clauses. The first clause prevents the US Congress from passing laws that would establish a national religion. The second clause prevents the US Congress from passing laws that would interfere with the free exercise of religion by individuals. James Madison went into great detail when he proposed this amendment in the House of Representatives. Here is an excerpt from the debates during the writing of the Bill of Rights:
Mr. Madison said, he apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience
James Madison, the author of the First Amendment, issued the following presidential proclamation in 1814. As you can see this proclamation contains religious language. Madison believed such a proclamation did not violate the establishment clause so how could town officials participating in prayers violate the same?
The two Houses of the National Legislature having by a joint resolution expressed their desire that in the present time of public calamity and war a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States as a day of public humiliation and fasting and of prayer to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessing on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace.
It is quite clear from the entire transcripts from the drafting of the Bill of Rights that those amendments only applied to the federal government. James Madison proposed extending certain clauses from the Bill of Rights down to the States. This was defeated.
When Justice Black issued his Everson vs. Board of Education ruling he claimed that the Fourteenth Amendment extended this separation of church and state down to the States by incorporating the Bill of Rights down to the States. According to that ruling this was accomplished because the entire Bill of Rights was included in the word liberty found in the due process clause of that amendment. That is the height of absurdity because this clause of the 14th Amendment is a copy of the due process of the 5th Amendment. The 14th Amendment did extend the due process clause of the 5th Amendment down to the States however that was the only clause of the Bill of Rights that was extended down to the States by this amendment.
Many states had official religions at the time of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. After the ratification of the Bill of Rights those same states still had an official religion. On their own those states de-established their official religion. If the establishment clause did not prevent states from having official religions how did it stop state and local government officials from leading others in prayers?
Both Madison and Jefferson were instrumental in de-establishing the official church of Virginia. James Madison wrote “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment” and Thomas Jefferson wrote “The Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom.” Both works have been quoted by proponents of this modern, all inclusive, idea of a separation of church and state to prove Jefferson and Madison advocated for this doctrine. These quotes are taken out of context. The full text of those documents does not support that conclusion.
A note from DaTechGuy: I hope you enjoyed Jon Fournier’s piece. Remember we will be judging the entries in Da Magnificent tryouts by hits both to their post and to DaTipJar So if you like Jon Fournier’s work please consider sharing this post, and if you hit DaTipjar because of it don’t forget to mention Jon Fournier’s post is the reason you did so. His piece from last week is here.
Please consider Subscribing. If less than 1/3 of 1% of our readers subscribed at $10 a month we’d have the 114.5 subscribers needed to our annual goal all year without solicitation.
Plus of course all subscribers get my weekly podcast emailed directly to you before it goes up anywhere else.