Separation of Church & State: What Does The Constitution Really Say?

Author: Richard Renker


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 (817)-441-6044.)

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 Christianity."

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 and state.

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 running things.

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 Country."

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 historical precedent.

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 such as:

Pregnancies in girls from 15-19 years old Sexually transmitted diseases to high school students Voluntary Abortion Violent Crimes - In fact, the U. S. is now the world leader in violent crimes.

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 it.

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!!