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Separation of Church and State: Then and Now


The term “separation of church and state” is being thrown around more every day, but it seems that its origin and meaning still escapes many Americans, even those who should know better.

Even among Christian conservatives, there are now some who constantly check themselves at the door of separation of church and state before making private or public decisions or statements, readily accepting the popular understanding of the phrase. The problematic reality of the situation is that they are being misled by those whose intentions are dishonest and far from the promotion of free speech and religion.

Most political conversations now initiated, concerning the separation of church and state, claim that the separation they speak of is based upon the U.S. Constitution. In reality, this phrase is found nowhere in the Constitution; neither is their argument. The anti-freedom argument of separation of church and state contends that no reference, audible or visible, to any biblical or Christian tenet should be allowed in any federal or state facility (or in any decision made therein.)

Their unfounded claim is made in citation to the First Amendment to the Constitution, effective December 15, 1791. Amendment I states that “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.”

Obviously, the exact phrase that is so popular among this crowd is not present in this amendment. The phrase “wall of separation between the church and the state” actually originated from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut on January 1, 1802. This religious group, like many today, had learned just enough about the governmental terminology that had been established concerning the church and the state to entertain the possibility that the government meant to turn completely away from the interests and influences of Christianity and Bible teaching. That was their fear. The purpose of Jefferson’s letter was to remove their fears and to assure them that this “wall” was being erected to protect their religious freedom, in that it was meant to keep the state out of the church’s business, not to keep the church out of the state’s business. The respect or display of Judeo-Christian faith is not the sort of “establishment” being addressed in the First Amendment. This faith had already been established long before the writing of the Constitution.

It’s easier to put the true intent of the nation’s founders into perspective when we consider their plight in the earlier American colonies and, for some of them and many of their ancestors, in the mother country of England. There, under the British monarchy, the Church of England and the government were one in the same. Both entities infiltrated the other, causing citizens’ lives, well-being, and freedoms to suffer. This “establishment” of a state religion is what the founders wished to avoid in the independent separation of their young nation of the United States from British control. Their intention was never to remove the free expression or practice of religion from public or private American life. Quite the contrary was true.

In fact, 52 of the 55 founders of the Constitution were members of the established colonial orthodox churches. As the very first Supreme Court justice, John Jay, in a private letter to Jedidiah Morse in 1797, said that “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” In 1798, John Adams said, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Based upon historical record, these views were also shared by others, such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Dr. Benjamin Rush. Although the nation was not officially founded to be a Christian nation, in that it was not penned into founding documents that “the United States of America is to be solely representative and influenced by Christianity,” by the very nature of the Founders’ faith and actions, it should be clearly understood that America was, from the beginning, a Christian nation. The Declaration of Independence mentions God four times and clearly states that “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.” By any contextual interpretation, it can only be concluded that the “Creator” being spoken of in this document is the God of the Holy Bible.

Other evidence of the country’s traditional Christian heritage can be clearly observed in the nation’s Capital and in other public institutions elsewhere. The words “In God We Trust” are emblazoned over the Speaker of the House in the U.S. Capitol. The Supreme Court building, built in the 1930’s, contains a carved monument above its East entrance featuring Moses holding stone tablets representing the Ten Commandments. God is mentioned, including Bible verses, in the stone architecture of various Federal buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C. The liberty bell also contains an engraved Bible verse. In every presidential swearing-in ceremony, prayers have been offered, and every U.S. president has uttered the words “So help me God” as they were sworn in on the Bible. Every president who has given an inaugural address has invoked the name of God in their speech. Other courtroom oaths have also always invoked God, and chaplains have always been included on the public payroll. God is mentioned in the original Constitution of all 50 states. Including official festivities under every administration at the White House, our nation has also always celebrated Christmas to commemorate the Savior’s birth.

Especially in recent years, however, there has been a growing and unified effort among certain secular-leaning individuals and organizations to remove any sign or mention of God, the Bible, or Christianity from public buildings and institutions. Most are familiar with court decisions resulting from lawsuits since 2007 in which such plaintiffs have been successful in removing monuments containing the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament from court buildings in Oklahoma and elsewhere. In other cases, such as in Alabama and Texas, the Supreme Court has dismissed such suits. It has also become evident that freedom of religion and expression, as pertaining to Christianity, has been unevenly targeted in such legal and public policy efforts, more so than that of any other belief system.

Religion and morality were paramount to the education of youth in early American schools, with the Bible being the first book in these early classrooms. It was first from the Bible that students learned to read and write, and the Bible was used both for its content and for the building of skills, with each school day including the recitation and memorization of Bible passages. Even the first official textbooks in these early schools, the New England Primer and the later McGuffey Reader, included instruction in basic morals and values that were first established in the Holy Bible. In these early schools, and until relatively recently in school districts across the U.S., prayer was used in a variety of ways. Some of these prayers were basic and informal, and others consisted of structured prayers such as the 23rd Psalm or the Lord’s Prayer. For example, early American students as a class in New York prayed daily, “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee and beg Thy blessing over us, our parents, our teachers, and our nation.”

Although for some there will never be enough evidence to convince them of the detriments of the removal of God from our public schools, there is much significant evidence of this that is very difficult for many of us to ignore. The 1962 Supreme Court decision in the case of Engels v. Vitale prohibited state-mandated prayer in public schools, even with the provision of a student’s free will whether or not to participate in these prayers. Prior to this decision, records across the nation show that, as a small percentage, students were usually guilty of committing crimes such as raising their voices, cutting in line, or running in the halls. Since this decision, a growing number of students have been guilty of using drugs and alcohol and of committing robbery, assault, rape, suicide, and homicide. SAT scores have also declined among the majority of American public school students, and there has been a rise in the numbers of teen pregnancies and divorce and a decline in marriages.

It is hard to deny the reality that removing prayer, moral values, and the Bible from most of our schools has changed who the majority of our young people are and how they act. In the Bible, Jesus Christ warned that “…whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven,” in Matthew 10:33. Especially for Christians, it is easy to see that this has become the reality in many of our schools. We are not surprised to see that the blessings of God on our children and society have been withheld after He is no longer being acknowledged in the places where our children are supposed to first become prepared for life as good, law-abiding citizens. We know that instruction to respect the law and to discern the difference between right and wrong will fail if God, as the original giver of the Law, is denied from our present and future generations. We also see the importance of carrying out the instruction of Proverbs 22:6 to “train up a child in the way he should go,” so that “when he is old, he will not depart from it.” For that matter, any who recognize the drastic changes in American culture over just the past few decades, and who place any value on Judeo-Christian principles, should be able to easily see the causes of the negative impact on our society.

As Americans, we should be informed of our legal and Constitutional rights and the rights of our school-aged children. Many have been intentionally and successfully fooled into thinking that prayer and other religious expression is now completely prohibited across the board in all public schools. According to all available evidence, this is not the case. Since the Engel v. Vitale decision prohibited only state-mandated prayer in public schools, many rights and freedoms of public school children remain intact at the federal and state levels. In another landmark Supreme Court decision, Tinker v. Des Moines, it was ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” According to such established precedents and existing U.S. laws, U.S. public school students are free to:

1) Take Bibles or other religious materials on the school bus or to hand them out to others during non-instructional periods;

2) Wear T-shirts or jewelry containing religious symbols or text;

3) Form a Bible study club or other religious club, if even one other student-led group is already allowed in the school, as a guaranteed right under the federal Equal Access Act of 1984; and to

4) Pray alone or in groups at flagpoles or elsewhere on school grounds, in school cafeterias, and even in classrooms, outside of regular instructional hours.

While these are guaranteed Constitutional rights, they are not necessarily granted automatically by the authority of individual schools. There are, though, a variety of American legal organizations, such as the Rutherford Foundation, that exist in part to protect the rights and freedoms of students and have been known to explain related law to school administrations. Because of the existence of so many laws protecting the rights of students, such matters have generally proved to be cleared up quickly. The Rutherford Foundation itself has stated that “Many cases can be solved with a strong and professional letter from an attorney, a legal memorandum from our office, or a phone call from a staff member” B.A. Robinson (religioustolerance.org).

It’s no wonder that secular individuals, with views contrary to those of America’s Christian founding and traditions, have chosen to focus their attention on the fronts of government and public schools. They correctly believe these avenues to be the most influential means by which to implement a new secular system of society that will establish a culture more fitting to their private interests. Their success is now being further secured with the help of the country’s mainstream sources of media, Hollywood, and many liberal organizations (including the modern Democrat Party.) Although their efforts are now gaining momentum, these efforts are not new to American society or the world. The ultimate source of these efforts is further clarified when reviewing the work of those such as the avowed Satanist Alester Crowley and his followers, who believed institutions such as Christianity, the traditional family, and traditional marriage to be the entities that must be attacked and destroyed in order for their idea of a secular, new world order to be implemented. With all these things in mind, Christians and all Americans who love freedom must consistently fight to retain these institutions and our Constitutional freedoms as well as to insist that the Bible and Almighty God continue to be acknowledged and respected in our nation.

Photo credit: AlphaBetaUnlimited (Creative Commons)

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.


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