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When Thomas Jefferson wrote his letter to the Baptist congregation in Danbury, Connecticut, in 1802, eleven years after the Bill of Rights had been ratified, he said that the First Amendment errected a “wall of separation” between Church and State. Even though Jefferson was a brilliant man and an important force in helping to establish many of our early laws and traditions, his statement was simply not true. I suspect it was a convenient excuse, perhaps a white lie to avoid some sort of lingering entanglement. But it was, nevertheless, a lie. (D. James Kennedy, “Character & Destiny: A Nation In Search of Its Soul,” p. 123)
This statement by Mr. Kennedy is a common sentiment among those that are against a separation of Church and State. This statement does not make sense when it is compared to historical facts.
First of all, Thomas Jefferson was not a person that was concerned about entanglements and troubles: he was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence. He, at age 34, was ready to lay his life on the line for the sake of true liberty that he committed high treason by writing the most influential and inspirational document (outside of Scripture). I believe that if he was not afraid at that time, a possible entanglement would not even be a speed bump for him.
Secondly, the first clause of the First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The words “separation of Church and State” are not there, but the premise is implied. There is an obvious separation keeping the government from interfering with religion; but there is also restriction on religion. There have been, and still are, people that are trying to push religiously-biased morals through legislation; and these pieces of legislation would either target or single-out one or more religions. This kind of legislation is prohibited by the First Amendment.
Some issues are not actually moral issues, even though they are treated that way. Abortion is one such issue. Abortion is not just a moral decision, it is outright murder of an innocent person. Proponents of abortion have a double-standard: if a woman decides to have an abortion, it’s okay; but if she is harmed and the baby dies, it is considered murder then.
Thirdly, we must realize and remember the events preceding the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In this country, there were persecutions based on religion. These persecutions started from the established religions, passed through the government as law, and were strictly enforced. Those that opposed these laws (Baptists were the leaders among these) were dissenters; and the punishment would be fines, imprisonment, public humiliation, whippings/beatings, banishment, to death. Baptists and other dissenters fought to have true religious liberty, or liberty of conscience. The first colony to have liberty of conscience was Rhode Island (founded by Roger Williams, who was banished from Massachusets for spreading “new and dangerous opinions” regarding religious freedom), in which any religion was able to worship freely without punishment or restriction by the law.
Separation of Church and State? You better believe that the founders intended to have a separation, and they knew all too well the need of it. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, and others were influenced by Baptists to come to their conclusions and convictions regarding liberty of conscience and the importance of Separation of Church and State.
This four-part series on Separation of Church and State: