SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: WHAT DOES THE CONSTITUTION SAY?
Talk by Richard Renker, deacon,
at St. John of the Cross Church Middlebury, CT, June 1994.
(Note: The vast majority of information given in this speech was obtained
from a video presentation entitled, "Our Godly Heritage," by David Barton
of Wallbuilders, Inc., P.O. Box 397, Aledo, TX 76008, phone
The famous statesman Patrick Henry said, "It cannot be emphasized too
strongly or too often that this great nation was founded . . . . . on the
gospel of Jesus Christ."
John Quincy Adams, our nations 6th president, said in a July 4th
speech in 1837, " . . . . the Declaration of Independence . . . . laid
the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of
The U. S. Supreme Court in 1892 stated, " Our laws and our
institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of
the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise.
In this sense and to this extent, our civilizations and our institutions
are emphatically Christian."
With this in mind, what is all this talk of separation between church
This phrase is often coupled with the First Amendment of our
Constitution. But, the First Amendment simply states:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The words "separation", "church" or "state" are not found in the First
Amendment. In fact, the statement separation of church and state, is in
no founding document associated with the United States of America.
The process of drafting the First Amendment made the intent of the
Founders clear. Before they approved the final wording, this amendment
went through nearly a dozen different iterations and was involved in
extensive discussion. These discussions are recorded in the congressional
records, and they make clear the intent of the First Amendment.
Our Founders were saying: we don't want in America what we had in
Great Britain - one church - the Anglican Church - the Church of England.
We will not all be Anglicans, nor Catholics, nor Congregationalists nor
Baptists. "By our form of government", says a 1799 court ruling, "the
Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and
denominations of Christians are placed on the same equal footing."
In other words, we will be a Christian nation, adhering to God's
principles, but we don't want one particular Christian denomination
What I am trying to establish here today is that our nation was
founded on religious principles. Christian, because our Founders were
Christians. In fact, 52 of the 55 Founding Fathers who worked on the
Constitution were members of mainstream Christian churches. And, what I
am saying is that these Founding Fathers never considered a separation of
church and state as we know it today. As a matter of fact in the same
speech of John Adams mentioned earlier he stressed that the biggest
victory won in the American Revolution was that Christian principles and
civil government would be tied together in what he called an
'indissoluble' bond. Bonding, fusing, a tying together of religion and
government - not separation.
Well then - what happened?
Our state, Connecticut, has a major part in the history of the
concept of separation between government and religion. In 1801 the
Danbury Baptist Association wrote to then President, Thomas Jefferson,
that they had heard a rumor that the Congregationalists were going to be
made the national denomination. Jefferson wrote back to the Danbury
Baptists, assuring them that the First Amendment had erected "a wall of
separation between church and state." His letter explained to the
Baptists that they need not fear the establishment of a national
denomination, and that the wall of the First Amendment would protect the
church from government control. This was a letter very much in synch with
the founding fathers and the First Amendment. Yet we'll soon see how this
letter was misused to establish our modern concept of separation between
church and state.
Jefferson's letter was not used often, but on occasion, it was used
to support the idea that it was permissible to maintain Christian values,
principles and practices in official policy. But, in 1947 in the case of
Everson v. Board of Education, the Court, for the first time, did not cite
Jefferson's entire letter, but selected only eight words from it. The
Court now announced: "The First Amendment has erected (and here are the
eight words) 'a wall of separation between church and state.' That wall
must be kept high and impregnable." This was a new philosophy for the
Court. It had taken the eight words from Thomas Jefferson's letter
completely out of context.
After this case, the Court began to speak frequently of a separation
of church and state, broadly explaining that this is what the Founders
wanted - this is their great intent. The court failed to quote the
Founders; it just asserted that this is what they wanted.
The courts continued on this track so steadily that in 1958 in a case
called Baer v. Kolmorgen one of the judges was tired of hearing the phrase
and wrote a dissent, warning, that if the court did not stop talking about
the separation of church and state, people were going to start thinking it
was part of the Constitution.
Dr. William James, the father of Modern Psychology, said "There is
nothing so absurd but if you repeat it often enough people will believe
it." Oh, well.
In 1962 in the case of Engel v.Vitale, the Court delivered its first
ever ruling which completely separated Christian principles from
education; the case struck down school prayer. And, in this case, the
Court redefined the word "church". For 170 years prior, the word,
"church" - as used in the phrase, "separation of church and state" was
defined to simply mean, "a federally established denomination." However,
the Court now explained that the word, "church", would mean "a religious
activity in public".
This was the major turning point in the interpretation of the First
Amendment. Understand that the Court had just announced a brand new
doctrine. With no historical or legal precedent - it now could prohibit
religious activities in public settings.
And, listen to the prayer in dispute - the prayer that caused this
decision to be made: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon
Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our
This prayer which could be said by any believer in God regardless of
which religion - this prayer which acknowledges God only once, the same
number of times as in the Pledge of Allegiance and only one fourth of the
times as in the Declaration of Independence, was rendered
unconstitutional. When the Court declares something unconstitutional it
is inferring that our Founding Fathers - the men who drafted the
Constitution - would have opposed it. In this case this is absolutely not
true. To repeat - this was a brand new doctrine with no legal or
We have been robbed of our Godly heritage.
Many similar decisions have been made by our courts since this
landmark case - some absolutely ludicrous. But let's move on.
I'd like you to visualize a graph with a straight or slightly
declining trendline through the 50's. Then, abruptly, in 1962/63 the
graph rises dramatically and continues rising through today.
I'll mention only a few, but this would be a typical chart for things
Pregnancies in girls from 15-19 years old
Sexually transmitted diseases to high school students
Violent Crimes - In fact, the U. S. is now the world leader in
Is this coincidental, or does this have something to do with the new
treatment of separation of church and state and the striking of prayer
from schools. I don't think it's at all coincidental. It's probably not
the only reason, but it certainly is a major contributor.
George Washington in his farewell address warned that morality cannot
be maintained without religion. "Let it simply be asked," he went on to
say, "Where is the security for life, for reputation and for property if
the sense of religious obligation desert."
Is our country involved in a moral decline? There is no doubt about
Are we being robbed of our Godly heritage? I believe we are.
And, I would close today imploring us to do whatever we can to bring
God and Christian values back into our hearts, back into our families,
back into our schools and back to the heart of our country.
God Bless You!!