In an article in Christian History Magazine, author Daniel Driesbach correctly points out that Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” metaphor was misused by the Supreme Court to redefine church-state law and policy in a way never intended. I completely agree.
On New Year’s Day, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, endorsing the persecuted Baptists’ aspirations for religious liberty. The First Amendment, he wrote, denied Congress the authority to establish a religion or prohibit its free exercise, “thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” That “wall” was built to protect the persecuted Christians from the tyranny of the government. Remember just 25 short years before the people here were still part of England, a country in which the government said there is only one church, the Church of England. To be part of any other church was a criminal offense.
If I may be so bold as to assume I can speak for Jefferson’s intentions (why not the Supreme Court did) his intentions were never to remove religion from political or public society. It was Jefferson who said, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal, hostility against every form tyranny over the mind of man.” Sounds to me like he wanted to protect us from limiting our religious freedom.
What bothers me the most is the phrase “separation of church and state” never appears in the Constitution but ONLY in this letter written in support of the Baptists. Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment (literally) and say that it was Jefferson’s intention to separate all religion from the government…So What? A president doesn’t have the power to change the Constitution and neither should the Supreme Court! Here’s what the First Amendment to the Constitution does say…
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Excuse me but isn’t saying that we can’t have Christian symbols, prayers and other such “religious” observances in government and public forums a violation of that amendment? The First Amendment never restrained religious expression, completely the opposite…it kept the government from restraining religious expression.
Why am I taking the time to write about this? Because I truly believe that we as Christians should know the truth. If we are to remain “one nation under God” we must be informed to defend our Christian heritage.