Monday, November 19, 2007

Wall of separation?

Thomas Jefferson was no enemy of religion, but his metaphor of a "wall of separation" has become a Constitutional doctrine. Gregory Koukl at Stand to Reason explains the First Amendment by simply reading it and pointing out its obvious meaning:
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.
Notice, the Bill of Rights is a guarantee of freedom, and the first freedom protected - before the freedom of speech or press, by the way - is freedom of religion. The First Amendment was meant to secure liberty, including liberty of religion. The point: The non-establishment clause was meant to promote religious freedom, not restrict it.

Some people think this clause was written to protect atheists and restrict religion. It wasn't. It was written to protect religious people and promote their liberty in the public square.

There is no separation of church and state in the Constitution. Let me repeat: There is no separation of church and state in the Constitution. The Constitutional language is "non-establishment," not separation. There’s a difference.

When people ask me, "Don’t you believe in separation of church and state?" I say, "No. And neither should you. Instead, I believe in the Bill of Rights."

So next time the question of separation of church and state arises – whether in regard to a cross on a hilltop in San Diego, or “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance—remember what the First Amendment of the Constitution actually says and what its first clause was designed to do: protect and promote religious freedom.
Stand to Reason Blog: First Things First


  1. Anonymous8:43 AM

    Jim you have gone fishing and reeled me in:

    (1) Because a concept in specific language does not appear does not mean the concept does not exist. (i.e. The word Trinity never appears in the New Testament yet Orthodox Christianity teaches it). Here is a word phrase to look for in the Constitution “Separation of Powers” (Yet surely one would say the concept is Constitutional
    (2) The concepts of “Establishment and Free Exercise” as Separation of Church and State need also to be viewed in the context of the “Equal Protection clause” of the fourteenth amendment.
    (3) The Historic assumptions of Baptists who because of persecution and in our Seventh Day Baptist case the modern State's promotion of Blue laws. have theologically promoted Separation Principles

    ROGER WILLIAMS, "Mr. Cotton's Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered," The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, Vol. 1, 108 (1644).
    "When they [the Church] have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the Candlestick, etc., and made His Garden a wilderness as it is this day. And that therefore if He will ever please to restore His garden and Paradise again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world, and all that be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the wilderness of the World."

    ISAAC BACKUS, colonial Baptist from New England, An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty (1773).
    "Religious matters are to be separated from the jurisdiction of the state, not because they are beneath the interests of the state but, quite to the contrary, because they are too high and holy and thus are beyond the competence of the state."

    JOHN LELAND , "A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia," as cited in Forrest Church, The Separation of Church and State, 92 (2004
    "The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. ... Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.").

    JAMES MADISON (James Madison, Writings, II, 183-191.) [For a note concerning this quote see Fact Check on J.M. Dawson on the Mainstream Baptist blog on March 5, 2005 The Episcopal clergy are generally for it. . . . The Presbyterians seem as ready to set up an establishment which would take them in as they were to pull one down which shut them out. The Baptists, however, standing firm by their avowed principle of the complete separation of church and state, declared it to be "repugnant to the spirit of the Gospel for the Legislature thus to proceed in matters of religion, that no human laws ought to be established for the purpose]

    God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power. (emphasis added).

    In 1963 Seventh Day Baptists made a strong statement concerning the Separation of church and State. in which as a people we said “ declaring their absolute separation on theological principle rather then for practical advantage.”

  2. Ken,
    The fact that some Baptists liked the idea of a "wall of separation" doesn't make it a Constitutional doctrine. Nor is it an argument that it should be.

    You will note that Koukl is arguing that the purpose of the First Amendment was to protect churches and the liberty of their members.

    I would contend that the doctrine of the Trinity is necessitated by declarations about God in the Scriptures. And that the separation of powers is an inevitable result of three branches of government and the powers they posses as described in the Constitution. Is a "wall of separation" similarly inevitable given the language of the First Amendment? Nobody, however desirable they may have found the concept, seems to have interpreted it that way until quite recently.


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