Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Separation of Church and State:  it's the phrase used in arguments to tear down desert memorials to fallen heroes and prevent prayer before high school football games.  Today the phrase is probably heard more often than the author's more famous work--The Declaration of Independence.   Just look at what I found on the Library of Congress website.

It doesn't appear in the Constitution, in fact Mr. Jefferson wasn't even in the country when that document was written. 

The phrase isn't even quoted word for word from its original source: a letter by President Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist.  Here is the phrase in context.

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."

This letter was dated January 1, 1802.  Anyone want to guess what the President was doing just a few days later?  He listened to a sermon by John Leland in a church service held in the US Capitol building!!   The event was recorded in the Journal of Manessah Cutler, a congressman from Massachusetts. 

According to another source, Margaret Bayard Smith, this was not an unusual occurence.

In case you have trouble reading the script I will type the text starting near the end of page one:

"The custom of preaching in the Hall of Representatives had not then been attempted, there after it was established, Mr. Jefferson during his whole administration was a most regular attendant.  The seat he chose the first day Sabboth & the adjoining one, which his private secretary occupied,  were ever afterwards by the courtesy of the congregation were always left for him and his secretary."
If the source of "Separation of Church and State" had no problems with attending services in a government building (which I assume would include prayer, Bible reading, and perhaps communion) then why can't little Johnny have his hand drawn picture of Jesus on the wall at school?

I guess I've just answered my own question.  If I don't know the correct interpretation of "Separation of Church and State," I can't object when my right to practice religion is taken away from me.  I may never have been taught this in school, but you can be sure my son will learn it!

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