I received this question from “Jimmy.” “How would I respond to someone who argues that the first amendment includes separation of church and state?”
Pastor G: Jimmy, it just depends. I have found that most people who want to argue, that is all they want to do. Most people have already made up their mind and they just want to bug you to death. Seriously, do not waste your time on them.
Now, for your benefit and for all reasonable people the answer is really simple, the separation of church and state is NOT in the first amendment. Here is the first amendment in its entirety. As you can see, “separation of church and state” is not there.
“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.”
The “separation” phrase is in a letter from Thomas Jefferson guaranteeing Danbury Baptists that the federal government will not interfere with their religious expression. Thomas Jefferson was a man of deep religious conviction — his conviction was that religion was a very personal matter, one which the government had no business getting involved in. Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 to answer a letter from them written in October 1801. The Danbury Baptists were a religious minority in Connecticut, and they complained that in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature — as “favors granted.” In this letter, Jefferson guaranteed the Danbury Baptists that the federal governments will not interfere with their religious expression. He NEVER stated that God should not be a part of the government, but that government should stay out of the business of the church.
Jimmy: I am not trying to argue but to understand and to find common ground – that is if your sincere about not wanting a theocracy. But I fail to understand how involving your religion in politics has any other outcome.
If elected officials are religious (what ever that religion), and vote and champion policies in keeping with that view it is their right. But I am an Atheist and I have that right according the 1st Amendment (just as you have the right to not only believe in what ever you want but to proselytize that belief.) And I whole heatedly support you in exercising that right.
Do you support my right to believe or not as I see fit. Would our rights to do so be infringed if I we were forced to pray in school to a god that is not ours? or if our tax dollars were spent on a menorah display, or if the FDA mandated that all meat must be Halal?
I have no wish to infringe on your rights. Contrary to your claims kids can pray in school, they can even organize a prayer group. But state paid employees at the school can not take part. Because than my and every non-christian in the community would be paying for religious education and it would be a tacit approval by the government of that religion.
Religious freedom in the first amendment has two parts free exercise – we can believe or not as we choose and the establishment clause – the government can not show any preference or support for any religion. As my civil rights prof use to say its a bit like telling someone they can neither sit nor stand up.
I am very concerned about this and similar movements pushing for an America where christian laws are enshrined in civil statues and as someone looking in from the outside I really do not see the difference between this and sharia law.
Pastor G: Great post and great questions! America and thus American-style government has an interesting relationship with God and Christianity. It is NOT the religion of Christianity on which the founders wanted to build our nation. It was biblical principles that guided them. While they never wanted a theocracy, the founders never saw an America that wasn’t greatly influenced by Christianity. This is why, for example, Presidents Washington and Adams called for national days of repentance and fasting. In doing this, they were not trying to force religion on anyone, but recognize the mighty hand of God that guided them in the revolution and the founding of the nation.
You seek to understand us, so go with me in this next statement. You are an atheist. In a Christian nation, you are free to practice religion or not to practice. In no way should you be coerced to pray or read any scripture. In no way has anyone ever been coerced to pray in America. This is a creation of revisionist “historians.” I encourage you to read my blog series on the Real Story Behind The Thaw. I address this issue there.
In this same series I answer all the questions people have asked, like your “Prayer” question. We know that, legally, under certain circumstances kids can pray at school. Read the series and you will understand better what the kids mean by that statement.
Jimmy, you last statement is well received. “I am very concerned about this and similar movements pushing for an America where christian laws are enshrined in civil statues and as someone looking in from the outside I really do not see the difference between this and sharia law.” I am with you, if America becomes a place where you are forced to be “Christian” by the point of a gun (force of law), I am gone!
The American expression of a Christian form of government has already been written and you and I have been living free under it. It is The Declaration of Independence and The US Constitution. All we want is to keep this nation on the philosophical track on which it was founded. This philosophical foundation is found in the Declaration.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Jimmy, thanks for your heart to understand. I hope I have helped.