from the Congress Action newsletter

Wall Of Separation

by: Kim Weissman
February 4, 2001

Critics are sputtering in rage against President Bush's faith-based charities initiative, and we should expect to hear a lot more about that mythical "wall of separation between Church and State". Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) claimed that Bush's initiative "…strikes at the heart of the religious freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment" and "The Constitution requires a separation between religion and government, not a government agency designed to unite the two." AU has a virulent hostility towards any connection whatsoever between religion and government, and pushes the "wall of separation" argument to very intolerant extremes.

The Supreme Court has been far more nuanced than the AU when interpreting the First Amendment, depending on the ideological makeup of the Court when it hears those cases. Of course, despite AU's claim that the "Constitution requires" a separation, the phrase "wall of separation between Church and State" is nowhere contained in the Constitution. What the Constitution (the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights) does say is that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…". So the proper questions to ask are whether Bush's initiative on faith-based charities will establish an official national religion, or will prohibit anyone from freely practicing their religion? Clearly, the faith-based charities initiative will do neither.

That "wall of separation" phrase comes from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, in reply to a letter from a group of Baptist ministers who were complaining about religious persecution by the state of Connecticut. But the AU has taken that phrase written by President Jefferson as its authority; and has ignored the actual beliefs and practices of the men who wrote, and the populations that ratified, the First Amendment. More than that, AU apparently doesn't want Americans to know what those actual beliefs and practices were in 18th century America, thus they were highly critical of a Library of Congress exhibit called "Religion and the Founding of the American Republic". What is it that AU doesn't want Americans to know? Here are some excerpts from that Library of Congress exhibit:

"…a religious people rose in rebellion against Great Britain in 1776, and…most American statesmen, when they began to form new governments at the state and national levels, shared the convictions of most of their constituents that religion was, to quote Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation, indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions."

"Religion played a major role in the American Revolution by offering a moral sanction for opposition to the British."

"The first national government of the United States, was convinced that the 'public prosperity' of a society depended on the vitality of its religion."

"The first two Presidents of the United States were patrons of religion — George Washington was an Episcopal vestryman, and John Adams described himself as 'a church going animal.' Both offered strong rhetorical support for religion. In his Farewell Address of September 1796, Washington called religion, as the source of morality, 'a necessary spring of popular government', while Adams claimed that statesmen 'may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.' "

"The only 'religious clause' in the [Constitution] — the proscription of religious tests as qualifications for federal office in Article Six — was intended to defuse controversy by disarming potential critics who might claim religious discrimination in eligibility for public office." (Vilifiers of John Ashcroft because of his religious beliefs take note)

"It is no exaggeration to say that on Sundays in Washington during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson and of James Madison the state became the church. Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives. … Worship services in the House — a practice that continued until after the Civil War — were acceptable to Jefferson because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary. Preachers of every Protestant denomination appeared. (Catholic priests began officiating in 1826.) As early as January 1806 a female evangelist, Dorothy Ripley, delivered a camp meeting-style exhortation in the House to Jefferson, Vice President Aaron Burr, and a 'crowded audience.' Throughout his administration Jefferson permitted church services in executive branch buildings."

"The Gospel was also preached in the Supreme Court chambers. Jefferson's actions may seem surprising because his attitude toward the relation between religion and government is usually thought to have been embodied in his recommendation that there exist 'a wall of separation between church and state.' In that statement, Jefferson was apparently declaring his opposition, as Madison had done in introducing the Bill of Rights, to a 'national' religion. In attending church services on public property, Jefferson and Madison consciously and deliberately were offering symbolic support to religion as a prop for republican government."

Note that — Jefferson (the "wall of separation" author himself) and Madison (known as the father of the Constitution) attended church services in the House of Representatives and in other public buildings during their terms as President. Yet the meaning of the Constitution and the real intent of the Founders has been so perverted that it is now considered intolerable to offer a nondenominational prayer at a high school football game, or to erect a Christmas display or post the Ten Commandments on public property. If anyone is trying to impose their ideology, it is the left trying impose their own narrow, amoral, and intolerant ideology on the nation, under the guise of defending the Constitution.

If we are to take the writings of Thomas Jefferson to be the iron guide for public policy, opponents of Bush's charities initiative can't just pick and choose what suits their political agenda. Jefferson, a prolific writer, also wrote about a whole range of other topics of concern at the founding of the republic.

He also wrote, for example, that "No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms within his own lands or tenements", and "A Strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun", and "laws that forbid the carrying of arms…make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants, they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides." So what about it, all you groups rising up in righteous (forgive the word) indignation against Bush's faith-based charities initiative — shall we pay attention to Thomas Jefferson or not? The radical left's worst nightmare — a religious, moral, and well-armed population. How could they ever impose their socialist ideology under those conditions? "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." — Thomas Jefferson

BACK Constitutional Issues

TYSK eagle

News Depts Articles Library
Lite Stuff Links Credits Home



4 feb 2001