Short note by Thomas Lachetta:
Ariel Simmons is a friend from the USA, residing in the State of New Mexico. She is a protestant minister’s daughter and has been homeschooled. The following is an essay she wrote while in dual credit courses at college, last year; she received an A+ from her teacher for her work.
Author: Ariel Simmons – written in September 2011 – published in Thomas Lachetta’s Blog at April 6, 2012
The question of “Church and State” is hotly debated and emotionally charged. One side of the debate argues that Church and State should be totally separate, and that the State cannot endorse or appear to promote any form of religion. The other side urges that religion occupies an important place in society and is entitled to its own voice, and a certain amount of interaction is inevitable and even desirable. Those who argue for complete separation claim that the Founding Fathers, particularly Thomas Jefferson, meant it so. Those on the other side also claim to have the Founding Fathers’ support. Determining which side is correct will affect how we act and respond toward politics and religion. The purpose of this piece is to bring forth evidence to determine which view is historically correct, and, therefore, what America was meant to be.
I believe there can be no question: the great majority of the Founders believed that religion can and should have a place in our public institutions. Looking at history we see the Founders believed Church and State required interaction with one another, and that the government could and should advance the Christian faith (DeMar, 1990).
Quotes and events show where the Founders stood, and why. The fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence were all affiliated with Christianity. Thirty-eight attended main stream Christian denominations; the other eighteen were distributed among Quaker, Catholic, Unitarian, and Episcopalian/Deist (Lossing, 1848). Over 92% of the fifty-six delegates who signed the U.S. Constitution claimed Christian beliefs (Ferris 1976).
My experience is that the most commonly used reference by those arguing for separation is Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, “a wall of separation of Church and State” (Walenta 2010). This phrase does not occur in the U.S. Constitution or Amendments, but in a private letter written by Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. Jefferson had no part in writing the Constitution, but was in France at the time (Miller Center 2011). Therefore, his view cannot guide our interpretation of the Constitution or Bill of Rights. Even so, it is worth noting that Jefferson funded Christian missions for the Kaskaskia Indians, paid for with federal money (Barton, 2011). Moreover, church services were held in the hall where Congress met for many years. Jefferson and many other presidents attended church regularly at the Capitol building (Barton, 2005).
In 1782, Congress itself printed the first Bible in English in America. The quote inside the cover explains the reason of their action, “A neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools.” Here we see that Congress encouraged teaching and use of the Bible in America, and saw no Constitutional restraint upon its doing so. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who also attended Congress, showed the significance that was placed on the Bible when he said that “the Bible should be read in our schools in preference to all other books.”
Numerous quotes show the Biblical foundation inside of America’s government, laws, and institutions. The following quotes show that the Church was indeed encouraged and supported in government by our Founders. George Washington recognized Christianity’s importance in government when he said that it was “Impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible” (DeMar 1990). Joseph Story, a lawyer and jurist that served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845, said that he believed Christianity necessary for a civil society, that Christianity in the common law was one of the beautiful boasts of our jurisprudence, and that “there never has been a period in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as laying its foundations” (DeMar 1990). From these quotes we see that the Church involved in State and vice versa was not only important but necessary to the Founders’ beliefs in bettering society. According to Noah Webster, an outspoken supporter of the Constitution, the Bible, especially the New Testament, was needed for providing proper understanding of America’s laws and the “source of correct republican principles” (DeMar 1990). As we can see, Jefferson’s phrase declaring the need for a “wall of separation” cannot be interpreted as shutting the Church out of government, or government out of religion, but only excluding government intervention in Church affairs (e.g., appointing bishops like in England).
I believe the evidence thus shows that the Founding Fathers’ thought that Church and State were to work together. Congress, presidents, and Supreme Court justices from the founding era all affirmed the need of Christianity for the health and liberty of the nation. In order to uphold the Founders’ meaning and intent the State must be influenced by and active in forwarding Christianity. On the other hand the State should not be involved in Church administrative offices and affairs. The Founders intended certain arenas for both Church and State, for America’s benefit and better understanding of the spirit and intent of our Constitution.
Lossing, B. J. (1848). Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Retrieved from Religious Affiliation of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America website: http://www.adherents.com/gov/Founding_Fathers_Religion.html
Ferris, R. G. (1976), Signers of the Constitution: Historic Places Commemorating the Signing of the Constitution. Retrieved from Religious Affiliation of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America website: http://www.adherents.com/gov/Founding_Fathers_Religion.html
DeMar, G. (1990). God and Government: A Biblical and Historical Study. American Vision, Icn., Powder Springs, Georgia.
Walenta, C. (2010) U.S. Constitution Online: Jefferson‘s Wall of Separation Letter. Retrieved from http://www.usconstitution.net/jeffwall.html
American President: A Reference Resource (2011). Retrieved 2011, August 31, from Miller Center University of Virginia website: http://millercenter.org/president/jefferson/essays/biography/2
Barton, D. (2011, April 19). David Barton on Thomas Jefferson: The Kaskaskia Indians. Retrieved August 31, 2011, from Warren Throckmorton website: http://wthrockmorton.com/2011/04/19/david-barton-on-thomas-jefferson-the-kaskaskia-indians/
Barton, D. (2005 October 10). Church in the U.S. Capitol. Retrieved from Wall Builders website: http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=90