The Separation of Church and State

June 21, 2007

The article below from KFYR-TV News is the latest of many news stories regarding those who are intolerant and bigoted towards Christians using “The Separation of Church and State” as a way to completely expunge Christianity from our society.

 “The nation`s largest atheist group is suing North Dakota officials over the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch.The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation says public money is used for services to troubled youth. They say the Boys and Girls Ranch religiously “indoctrinates” youth.The group wants a judge to declare a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

The lawsuit is filed in federal court in Bismarck against Lisa Bjergaard, director of juvenile services for the state Department of Corrections, and Ward County Social Services director Daniel Richter.
Bjergaard said she had not seen the lawsuit and declined comment. Richter did not immediately return a telephone call.”  

In his book entitled, The Ever-Loving Truth, Dr. Voddie Baucham writes the following:

 

“The frequency with which the term is used causes some to marvel when they discover that the phrase “separation of church and state” cannot be found in the Constitution.  That’s right, it’s not there!  Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase in a letter he wrote to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, in an effort to assure them that rumors they had heard about the establishment of a state church were false.  His letter reads as follows:

 

            Gentleman,

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association give me the highest satisfaction….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.  I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association assurances of my high respect and esteem.

 

Jefferson’s sentiments become clearer when viewed in light of his many remarks and writings on the subject.  In his second inaugural address, for example, he stated that in matters of religion, “its free exercise is placed by the constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government.”  David Barton, a leading advocate for the appropriate rendering of the First Amendment as it relates to Christianity in American culture, believes that “Jefferson had committed himself as President to pursuing the purpose of the First Amendment; preventing the ‘establishment of a particular form of Christianity’ by the Episcopalians, Congregationalists, or any other denomination.

 

The First Amendment, which many cite as the source of the doctrine of the separation of church and state, reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  These simple words are a far cry from the interpretation often expressed and discussed today.  Due to a simple misreading or misapplication of the words of Thomas Jefferson written in a private letter, this issue has reached a point of crisis, Barton’s conclusion puts a fine enough point on the matter”

 

            Therefore, if Jefferson’s letter is to be used today, let its context be clearly given – as in previous years.  Furthermore, earlier courts had always viewed Jefferson’s Danbury letter for just what it was: a personal, private letter to a specific group.  There is probably no other instance in America’s history where words spoken by a single individual in a private letter – words clearly divorced from their context – have become sole authorization for a national policy.  Finally, Jefferson’s Danbury letter should never be invoked as a stand-alone document.  A proper analysis of Jefferson’s views must include his numerous other statements on the First Amendment.

 

Jefferson’s own words, encapsulated on the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., summarize his thought: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Jefferson’s goal was not to keep religion out of the halls of government; he wanted to keep government out of the halls of religion.”

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