America’s Founders Wanted Church And State To Be Separate And So Should You

By David McAfee | 27 September 2015
Americans Against the Tea Party

The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” – The Treaty of Tripoli, submitted to the Senate by President John Adams

There’s a lot of debate over whether or not the United States is a Christian nation (and if you look at how many Americans say they practice Christianity[1] you may think that it is), but there’s no doubt that it was intended to be secular.

Sure, today we see “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” printed on everything from legal tender to law enforcement vehicles, but is that what the country was meant to look like? What would the Founding Fathers have to say?

Where did Separation of Church and State come from?

“Separation of Church and State” is a term that originates with Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the following in a letter to a group of Danbury Baptists:

“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.”

Although the term itself isn’t present in the U.S. Constitution (and neither are “God,” “Jesus,” “Christianity,” or “the Bible”), the idea of separating religion from government is embodied in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

What does it mean?

It seems like such a simple concept… and indeed it is: Separation of Church and State means that religion and government should be separate entities that don’t directly influence one another. I’ve heard believers argue that our forefathers introduced this “separation” solely to protect churches from governmental influence, and I’ve heard fellow secularists argue that the opposite is true, but that’s not what separation means. It works both ways.

When the founders said religion and government should be separated, they meant that each institution should have complete mutual independence from each other. They wanted to be sure that the legislature wouldn’t enact laws based on a religion because those types of laws would necessarily exclude anyone who believes differently.

What’s the best thing about this? It works! James Madison, a self-proclaimed deist and the fourth president of the United States, said both government and religion benefit from the separation.

“The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State.” – Madison’s letter to Robert Walsh

What did the founders believe?

Some of America’s Founding Fathers had religious beliefs, but many of them were actually deistic. And Thomas Jefferson, who we know coined the Separation of Church and State, was actually both. He was a “Christian deist” who actually cut out the supernatural portions of the Bible and utilized the teachings of Jesus as a sort of secular philosophy.

Christopher Hitchens, the late writer who was often referred to as one of the “Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse,” hailed Jefferson’s efforts in creating what is now called the Jefferson Bible.

“This consists of the four gospels of the New Testament as redacted by our third president with (literally) a razor blade in his hand,” Hitchens wrote. “With this blade, he excised every verse dealing with virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and other puerile superstition, thus leaving him (and us) with a very much shorter book.”

The Founding Fathers, much like people in America today, had very diverse beliefs. George Washington was affiliated with the Anglican Church with tendencies toward deism, while Madison largely ignored religion and matters of faith.[2] Alexander Hamilton is said to have been firmly Christian, but Benjamin Franklin promoted deism and criticized organized religion. However, despite holding conflicting religious beliefs and values, these men all agreed on one thing: government should be kept separate.

Separation in Modern America

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Odds are that you don’t remember this version of America’s traditional “Pledge of Allegiance” from grade school. The pledge was written by Francis Bellamy as a flag raising ceremony and salute for the celebration of Columbus Day in 1892. The piece was quickly adopted as America’s national pledge and it became customary to begin every school day by reciting it. Bellamy’s work however, was changed by Congress in 1954 (23 years after the author’s death) in order to advance religion in America and to protect against the growing threat of communism. The pledge, which is still recited nearly every day in a large number of public schools funded by the government, continues to be one of the most controversial issues involving separation of church and state.

But is that all we have to worry about in modern America? Some kids being asked to say “under God” every morning? Not even close.

Today we have more than just the “In God We Trust” motto and “under God” pledge to worry about when it comes to Separation of Church and State. Right now, around the country, there are public schools teaching Young Earth Creationism as an alternative to evolution in science classes. There are ongoing attempts by powerful religious groups to outlaw same sex marriage and abortion based on their religious beliefs. And, most terrifyingly, we have candidates for President who think “progressive” and “secular” are bad things (despite the fact that these ideals form the basis of the U.S.).

Even Mitt Romney, who won the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency in the 2012 election cycle, fails to understand the importance of Separation of Church and State and uses modern additions to once-secular ideas to justify his ignorance.

“The Founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square,” Romney wrote in his Faith in America address in 2007. “We are a nation ‘under God,’ and in God we do indeed trust.”

It’s important, maybe more so now than ever, that we honor the time-tested policy that is Separation of Church and State. We must remember, when we cast our votes in this upcoming election and those that follow, to choose people who understand and respect the constitutional principle that has made us great and that believers and non-believers alike have embraced for generations. We should remember that no one wins when we let mythology influence public policy.[3]

Reprinted with permission from the author.

[2] James H. Hutson (2003). Forgotten Features of the Founding: The Recovery of Religious Themes in the Early American Republic
[3] This shirt is available here: Use coupon code “DGM” for 10% off.

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  1. I'm not in America, so I suppose my comments could be classed as irrelevant.
    I will let you know that if a bunch guys at a tea party tried to be clear with separation of church and state, then maybe its time for some present intellectuals to devise a modern up to date version of:
    Teachings of religion to be removed from anyone who is still a child.

    I actually don't know why children don't eventually grow out of religion? Its like their brain just stopped developing.

    • Kimsland, the Boston Tea Party was about taxes, not religion. Yes, our Constitution rightly requires the Separation of Church and State… But the weirdos who want to make Christianity a state religion aren’t just immature and frozen in a juvenile religious mindset. They’re seriously delusional Right Wing Nuts, who surround themselves with a Mutual Admiration Society circle of friends who are insulated away from independent free thinkers (such free thinkers are more similar to the Founding Fathers than the Religious Bigots). But you’re right, the teaching of religion (in SCHOOLS) should be removed from a child.

  2. The TERM "separation of church and state" originated with Jefferson, but the concept can be dated back to the early colonies and Roger Williams who was forced to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony for harboring such a belief and ultimately founded Rhode Island, which, at the time of the ratification of the USCON, was one of only three colonies WITHOUT a state (official) religion.

    • The first colony, actually, Pennsylvania and the Quakers following, shortly thereafter with permission of the King for a Democratical experimental society. Roger Williams was a brilliant thinker, ahead of his time, even though he was a Puritan in practice, but the idea of the separation of civil law from church began, most notably, with him universally. A most kind, thoughtful and noble person, as well. Too bad most people never even know of him….much understand the sweeping bravery of his thoughts at that time in history.

    • SMH. Did you actually THINK about what you wrote? Read it …and think about it. Your comment would lead us to at least infer that you have HEARD the phrase 'separation of church and state' — not sure you grasp the meaning. Have you heard 'No TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION'???? If you TAX 'the churches' THEY will not ultimately pay the taxes – they'll just have their 'members' dig deeper into their pockets. If they are TAXED that will likely counteract separation of church and state …because….'no taxation without representation.' IDK who started the 'tax the churches' movement/s but someone needs to put a MUZZLE on them. We're seeing, again,proof that those of BOTH SIDES are sheep – and support positions as they are PROGRAMMED. :(

    • i give you a clap of the hands agree TAX nothing is free. in life we all pay in one shape or form in our life time even in death tax probate pay for the church service extra charge for weekends called donation my experience

  3. It was a concept based solely on governing under a certain religious sect. It in no way was mean to take the teaching of God out of schools, the courtrooms or public places of gathering. If that were true, at the time when the constitution was coined, they would’ve have immediately stopped all the above. But they did the opposite. Every schoolhouse taught the Bible and Christianity (not specific Baptist, Catholicism or Judaism ideologies) and every courthouse and session opened with prayer. You have to keep in mind why they originally fled Europe in the first place.

  4. Madison’s treatise: A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” should be required reading in high school. He makes very clear why failure to keep the separation utter and complete is bad for the the church, the state, the believer, and the non-believer alike.

  5. The problem is that some people want state and no church, when others want church and no state, and a few want Church-as-State, and a few more want neither.

    I agree with separation of church and state. But, when we in thE US have designed a juvenile culture based upon a ritualized idea of absolute freedom, those interpretations become much more about “want” than -need-.

    There is no freedom without responsibility. It does not matter if one believes that responsibility comes from their personal ideal of the divine, or whether it is self generated; in neither case should these ideals be allowed to affect the freedoms of others. No state based upon religious, philosophical or heuristic ideals, works for the benefit of all, when those ideals are only shared by less than 100% of the population. Instead, the state has to be maintained by the people, as an equitable regulator of liberty, governed by a macro-ethical rule of law, thus regulating freedom as a right, but legally those freedoms by controlling them specifically to protect others from harm those liberties might incur.

  6. Rule by religion is theocracy.

    Theocracy is tyranny!!

    We, the People, have the right to overthrow a tyranny!!!

    [It is time to actually use our 2nd Amendment – Think Boston Tea Party!]

    • People like you were made fun of by your hero, Justice Antonin Scalia, who authored the 2008 decision Heller v. District of Columbia. That was the decision that declared that the 2nd Amendment protected the right to possess firearms, which is and has always been limited. Scalia noted that the Second Amendment doesn't override laws prohibiting private possession of bazookas and machine guns. Military style weapons were also excluded as protected firearms. This has enabled 0. four federal courts to uphold bans on bump stocks, AR-15s, high capacity magazines, etc. To those who believe that that puts ordinary citizens who feel the need to form militias to fight government invasion of liberties, he said, in essence, tough luck. The Second Amendment's purpose is not to guarantee that enraged citizens can take up arms against the government itself to force change, but rather to allow individuals to have handguns for personal protection and to allow hunters to use rifles for sport, and nothing more.

      You fuzzy-headed, self-anointed patriots who claim to defend democracy from what you believe are governmental excesses fail to appreciate that in a true representative government, changes are wrought at the ballot box, not at the muzzle of a a firearm. Grow up.

  7. It is POWERFUL, indeed, that the Bill of Rights BEGINS with the Establishment Clause, PRIOR to the enumeration of ANY RIGHTS. The Founders STARTED there, that is how incredibly important is was to the Founders. I began Elementary School PRIOR to the addition of "under god", I still do NOT include those two words when I recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

    • No need for reprint sorry Madam if I'm off topic .and hijacking for my interest .I'm also trying to create awareness . Our American Dollar the note In God We Trust back by the gold reserve that has not been seen since 1963 , and current events of today and prior weeks ,months,& years 2008 the 75 billion dollars to be reprinted over a period if weeks according to The Federal Reserve . Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong Madam thank you kindly .It's my 1st time to comment and create this account I DO PUT MY TRUST IN GOD MY CREATOR AND I BELIEVE 110% THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE Base On Our Founders Of This Nation THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA not THE CORPORATION UNITED STATES

      • me ( wb00ebt) note to self: 7 to whom it may concern no problem please feel free to check i approve it's cool de ba ! ganon ! translation it's all good
        ( i"m happy )

  8. The Tele-Evangelistical industry is an industry not very different from the auto building industry and the banking industry and yet they enjoy tax free status . They generate profits in the billions of dollars providing people in the secular world with very lucrative life styles . It’s my belief and opinion that if influential pastors take the freedom in delivering political messages straight from the pulpit , they should also exercise that same freedom in paying their fair share of taxes

    • I am not pro-televangelist.
      Just to clarify though, pastors all pay taxes on their earned wages, income, capital gains etc, just like everyone else. Separation of Church and State is a standard that has been violated more so by the State not the Church. If we let the State tax the Church then the Church must be allowed to influence the State just like any taxpayer is allowed. We would be opening a can of worms that no one could predict the outcome of.

  9. Santorum: ‘Separation of Church and State' Was in Soviet Constitution Not U.S. Constitution

    In response to a question about how the agenda of the “far left” in America mirrors that as detailed in The Communist Manifesto, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) said it is worth noting that the words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the U.S. Constitution but are cited in the constitution of the former Communist Soviet Union.

      • You're wrong, Shelly. The phrase does not appear anywhere in the Constitution itself. However, it has been discussed in 3 US Supreme Court decisions, which means it's part of our constitutional legal tradition even if the idea does not explicitly appear in our Constitution .but rather was incorporated from Jefferson's letter to the Dansbury group, as stated in this article. Here's text from those 3 decisions which tells you all you need to know.. .:

        "[A]t the first session of the first Congress the amendment now under consideration was proposed with others by Mr. Madison. It met the views of the advocates of religious freedom, and was adopted. Mr. Jefferson afterwards, in reply to an address to him by a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association (8 id. 113), took occasion to say: ‘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 the 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. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.' Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured." Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 164 (1878).

        "Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. "In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.’" Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 16, citing Reynolds v. United States, supra, 98 U.S. at page 164.

        "This Court first reviewed a challenge to state law under the Establishment Clause in Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U.S. 1, 67 S.Ct. 504, 91 L. Ed. 711 (1947).1 Relying on the history of the Clause, and the Court's prior analysis, Justice Black outlined the considerations that have become the touchstone of Establishment Clause jurisprudence: Neither a State nor the Federal Government can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither a State nor the Federal Government, openly or secretly, can participate in the affairs of any religious organization and vice versa.2 “In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State.’ ”Everson, 330 U.S., at 16, 67 S.Ct., at 511 (quoting Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 164, 25 L. Ed. 244 (1878)). Even The Everson dissenters agreed: “The Amendment's purpose … was to create a complete and permanent separation of the spheres of religious activity and civil authority by comprehensively forbidding every form of public aid or support for religion.” 330 U.S., at 31–32, 67 S.Ct., at 519–520 (Rutledge, J., dissenting, joined by Frankfurter, Jackson, and Burton, JJ.); accord, Lee v. Weisman, 505 US 577, 599-600 (1992).

  10. Liberal propaganda, obviously don’t know U.S. history. To all the liberals, communists/ socialists. If you want that type of government go to Russia, see how great it is. SMH.

  11. The folks making these arguments are focused on attacking modern ideas instead of sharing the ideas of the actual Founders!
    Don't distract us with arguments with NO historical foundation!
    The Founders DID NOT focus on keeping the basic PRINCIPLES of Christianity and State separate!!
    They wanted NO particular branch (or the "united whole") of Christians to RULE!
    They wanted the UNIVERSAL PRINCIPLES of the Creator of Nature to RULE!
    They SUPPORTED EVERY Christian denomination and group which focused upon and shared the BASIC, COMMON, PRINCIPLES given to us by our Creator G-d!
    By the way, it is likely that SOME of them didn't care a wit about whether there Was a "god" or not, just so long as the folks who DID believe in a "god" would keep teaching the basic truths of Universal Reality having to do with LOVE in all it's various applications (u.e. – sacrificial Love, giving Love, orderly Love, social Love, etc.)

    • In 1797, the Senate explicitly separated government from religion when it unanimously approved a treaty drafted under George Washington and signed by John Adams, which stated, "The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion".

  12. I am very much a Christian and do not try to force my personal beliefs on anyone. I do believe however, that religion should not be part of and should stay out of matters dealing with secular government.


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