Politics and Government
Christianity
Colonial America

What does separation of church and state mean?

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2011-09-14 01:12:30
2011-09-14 01:12:30

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

That's what the Bill of Rights says. Nothing about "separation", just that CONGRESS can't establish an official religion or prohibit anyone from worshiping as they see fit. It DOESN'T say no Christmas displays in the town square, no Ten Commandments in a courthouse, no prayer in school, or any of the other things that the revisionists and activist judges have ruled in the last 20-30 years. In fact, it doesn't even say that a STATE LEGISLATURE can't say only Lutherans (or Catholics, or Wicans, or Druids) are eligible to hold state offices. Only CONGRESS is restricted by this clause.

AnswerI guess he/she is referring to the conservative activists since they are usually the ones ruling on these cases .. btw they love activism when it comes to Terri Schiavo, but that's another story. The framers of the Constitution wanted to build a wall between the church and state. Thomas Jefferson wrote of this separation in a letter to the Danbury Baptists:

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. --1802

A lot of radical right wingers today would rather pretend such a separation doesn't exist and wish to establish a theocratic state in the the USA. Hopefully, their efforts will be in vain, but sometimes it doesn't appear that way.

AnswerSince we are quoting Jefferson:

In this letter, Jefferson is actually responding to a letter he had received from the Danbury Baptists of Danbury, CT. They feared that the government would adopt a state religion and their minority views would be outlawed as they had been in England. Jefferson wrote his letter to reassure them that they would remain free to worship as they wished. He borrowed the term �wall of separation� from the Baptist minister Roger Williams.

Neither the constitution nor Jefferson�s letter suggests that religious expression must be kept out of the public arena. Yet the ACLU and Americans United continue to lift Jefferson up as a sort of historic �town crier� for their cause. They seem convinced that Jefferson would not have permitted any political recognition of anything remotely religious.

In 1774, while serving in the Virginia Assembly, Jefferson personally introduced a resolution calling for a Day of Fasting and Prayer.

In 1779, as Governor of Virginia, Jefferson decreed a day of Public and Solemn Thanksgiving and Prayer to Almighty God.

As President, Jefferson signed bills that appropriated financial support for chaplains in Congress and the armed services.

On March 4, 1805, President Jefferson offered A National Prayer for Peace, which petitioned:

�Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners.

Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.

Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth.

In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.�

Jefferson�s belief in a separation between church and state did not preclude the very mention of God under state sanction.

AnswerI don't think the ACLU or anyone is suggesting that the "religious" can't express themselves. In fact, the ACLU has fought numerous times for this right. It is a problem, however, when the religious become extreme and want to force their religion upon others and use the government to do so when it becomes a problem. Consider thisSome European countries have always had a Christian demonination that is **established by law**. In the past, in most of these countries, members of other demoninations were ineligible for most of the more sought after jobs in the public sector. (The government was perfectly happy to employ them as soldiers, but not above a certain rank). Only members of the established church could be elected to parliaments. To cap it all, everyone had to pay a 'church tax' to the established church, regardless of whether they belonged to it or not. Of course, this has changed in Europe, but I thought this might convey some of the things that having an 'established church' have involved in various countries at various times. AnswerThe point about Jefferson authoring a National Prayer in 1805 is an urban legend, or possibly a deliberate falsification on the part of the poster above.

See http://wiki.monticello.org/mediawiki/index.php/National_Prayer_for_Peace

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