Jefferson’s Jericho Wall of Separation

“So the people shouted when the priests blew with the trumpets: and it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat…” (Joshua 6:20)

I started writing this post months ago but set it aside as other things became more pressing. With the recent 4th Circuit ruling upholding a terrible lower court ruling that saying “Jesus” during a public prayer is unconstitutional, I thought it was time to finish this post off. If you were unaware of the ruling, please read Ken Klukowski’s piece in his blog at the Washington Examiner where he concludes:

“As I explain in my law review article, “In Whose Name We Pray,” published by Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, not only does Marsh v. Chambers allow “sectarian” prayers (i.e. mentioning Jesus), it would violate the Establishment Clause for any government official—including any federal judge—to censor the content of anyone’s prayers.

Under our Constitution, every American can pray in accordance with the dictates of his conscience, and government never has a right to interfere with religious beliefs.

This is the latest in a string of disappointing lower court decisions on public prayer. It’s time for the Supreme Court to revisit this issue.”

I agree. Further, lets examine what Jefferson meant when he wrote his oft-quoted letter to the Baptists in Connecticut.

In October 1801, President Thomas Jefferson received a letter from a committee of individuals at the head of the Danbury Baptist Association in Danbury, Connecticut, including the minister who was a friend of Jefferson’s, on the subject of religious liberty. Both their letter and Jefferson’s reply can be read on this page:

David Barton has written a wonderful article analyzing this church and state issue which I highly recommend.

I will quote from it and then share some other thoughts:

“Therefore, if Jefferson’s letter is to be used today, let its context be clearly given – as in previous years. Furthermore, earlier Courts had always viewed Jefferson’s Danbury letter for just what it was: a personalprivate letter to a specific group. There is probably no other instance in America’s history where words spoken by a single individual in a private letter – words clearly divorced from their context – have become the sole authorization for a national policy. Finally, Jefferson’s Danbury letter should never be invoked as a stand-alone document. A proper analysis of Jefferson’s views must include his numerous other statements on the First Amendment.

For example, in addition to his other statements previously noted, Jefferson also declared that the “power to prescribe any religious exercise. . . . must rest with the States” (emphasis added). Nevertheless, the federal courts ignore this succinct declaration and choose rather to misuse his separation phrase to strike down scores of State laws which encourage or facilitate public religious expressions. Such rulings against State laws are a direct violation of the words and intent of the very one from whom the courts claim to derive their policy.”

The truly amazing thing that nobody seems to talk about is that when Jefferson wrote his letter, 2 states HAD STATE RELIGIONS. Both Massachusetts and Connecticut had written into their constitutions establishments of religious practices. They did away with them in 1833 and 1818 respectively. When I heard David Barton mention this on Glenn Beck’s TV show a year or so ago, I had to go look it up myself to make sure.

In 1639, Connecticut created its Fundamental Orders, which were the first written constitution in this country (causing Connecticut to nickname themselves the “constitution state”). In this document they established themselves as a Christian state in these words:

“…do, for ourselves and our Successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation to gather, to maintain and pressure the liberty and purity of the gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said gospel is now practised amongst vs;…”

In 1662, the Connecticut Colony Charter was granted by Charles the 2nd which continued this belief in this language:

“And for the directing, ruleing and disposing of all other matters and things whereby our said people, Inhabitants there, may bee soe religiously, peaceably and civilly Governed as their good life and orderly Conversacon may wynn and invite the Natives of the Country to the knowledge and obedience of the onely true God and Saviour of mankind, and the Christian faith, which in our Royall intencons and the Adventurers free profession is the onely and principall end of this Plantacon; WILLING, Commanding and requireing, and by these presents, for vs, our heires and Successors, Ordaineing and appointeing.”

Clearly, Connecticut was a Christian state dedicated to being based upon the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Massachusetts on the other hand, went much further. Drafted in 1779 by John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin, and ratified in 1780, this document contained several provisions that clearly establish the Christian religion.

In the first part of the constitution declaring the rights of the people, the 2nd and 3rd articles read (emphasis added):

“Article II. It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe…”

“Article III. As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of the public instructions in piety, religion, and morality: Therefore, To promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic or religious societies to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.

And the people of this commonwealth have also a right to, and do, invest their legislature with authority to enjoin upon all the subject an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers aforesaid, at stated times and seasons, if there be any on whose instructions they can conscientiously and conveniently attend.

Provided, notwithstanding, That the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic, or religious societies, shall at all times have the exclusive right and electing their public teachers and of contracting with them for their support and maintenance.

And all moneys paid by the subject to the support of public worship and of public teachers aforesaid shall, if he require it, be uniformly applied to the support of the public teacher or teachers of his own religious sect or denomination, provided there be any on whose instructions he attends; otherwise it may be paid toward the support of the teacher or teachers of the parish or precinct in which the said moneys are raised.

And every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.”

This is nothing short of stunning! At the time Jefferson wrote his private letter to the Danbury Baptists, Massachusetts was forcing the citizens to pay taxes to support churches whether or not those citizens attended a church. Jefferson never said a thing about this practice! There was no cry from him of a problem in Massachusetts but he was most certainly aware of this practice which had been codified into supreme law by John Adams, Sam Adams, and James Bowdoin.

Before moving onto the next part of their constitution I must point out article 4 which follows.

“Article IV. The people of this commonwealth have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves, as a free, sovereign, and independent state; and do, and forever hereafter shall, exercise and enjoy every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not, or may not hereafter, be by them expressly delegated to the United States of America in Congress assembled.”

This will be taken into account below, but it’s clearly an indication that Massachusetts was identifying itself an independent state and upon joining the federal body would only delegate certain powers to the federal body.

In Massachusett’s “Part the Second: The Frame of Government” we see how they would elect officers also took into account an establishment of the Christian religion.

“Art. II. The governor shall be chosen annually; and no person shall be eligible to this office, unless, at the time of his election, he shall have been an inhabitant of this commonwealth for seven years next preceding; and unless he shall, at the same time, be seized, in his own right, of a freehold, within the commonwealth, of the value of one thousand pounds; and unless he shall declare himself to be of the Christian religion.

They further required anyone taking office to make this oath:

Article I. Any person chosen governor, lieutenant-governor, councillor, senator, or representative, and accepting the trust, shall, before he proceed to execute the duties of his place or office, make and subscribe the following declaration, viz:

I, A.B., do declare that I believe the Christian religion, and have a firm persuasion of its truth; and that I am seized and possessed, in my own right, of the property required by the constitution, as one qualification for the office or place to which I am elected.”

They even openly declare in chapter 5 of the constitution that Harvard university was established for the “advantage of the Christian religion.” I wonder how they might feel about Harvard fulfilling that mission today?

Clearly Massachusetts had established a religion and even required its office holders to declare a firm belief in Christianity.

So what did Jefferson mean in his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists? Clearly it wasn’t to prevent a church from influencing government, or to prevent invoking the name of “Jesus” in a public prayer. Jefferson understood 3 things very clearly as they were written into the U.S. constitution.

1) Article VI: “[legislators and officers must support this constitution]… but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

2) Amendment I: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”

3) Amendment X: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The first, Article VI, was clearly written in response to the Framer’s distaste for the Church of England’s influence to prescribe the beliefs of an individual before allowing them to hold national public office. (The difference in MA was they did not hold people to a specific sect but just mandated they must be Christian. Another factor is MA is not the United States as specified in this article.)

The second specifically forbids the federal government from medling with religion or interfering in the free speech of anyone else.

Neither of these items forbids religious leaders from making statements regarding politics, but they prevent the establishment of a national religion or any kind of litmus test to hold office. The religious pastors of the Revolutionary era stirred the souls of the people to rise up and cast off England and nobody condemned them in those actions (except perhaps the pro-England factions). It was clearly within the freedom of speech rights of religious leaders to participate in civic affairs, but not vice-versa for the federal government to meddle in religious sects.

The third element, the 10th Amendment, Jefferson clearly understood when as governor of Virginia, he called for a day of thanksgiving and prayer, but as president of the United States, he was hesitant to do so because he recognized the differing roles of state versus federal involvement.

Said Jefferson to the Reverent Samuel Miller on Miller’s recommendation for a national day of fasting and prayer:

“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises…Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government. …But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe a day of fasting and prayer. That is, that I should indirectly assume to the United States an authority over religious exercises, which the Constitution has directly precluded them from…civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.

So Jefferson signed the state level observance, but felt he didn’t have the right or ability to do it at the federal level because it was reserved to the states through the Constitution.

Dallin Oaks, a well respected judge for many years and now a General Authority in the LDS church, recently said this at a speech he gave at Chapman University:

“The prohibition against “an establishment of religion” was intended to separate churches and government, to forbid a national church of the kind found in Europe. In the interest of time I will say no more about the establishment of religion, but only concentrate on the First Amendment’s direction that the United States shall have “no law [prohibiting] the free exercise [of religion].” For almost a century this guarantee of religious freedom has been understood as a limitation on state as well as federal power.

As he notes, for the first century or more of our nation’s history, states had the power and authority to establish religious tests and even force citizens through taxation to support Christianity, deeming it in the public good and for the benefit of morality and even the preservation of the civil government. It was only after progressive elements came into power in the courts that these views were overturned and stripped from the states.

Now before someone jumps on me and says “Oak wants to establish the LDS faith as the Utah state religion” lets just put that to rest. My purpose in writing this post is to point out the fallacy of the “church and state” argument that is created by those that uphold a single quote from Jefferson’s private letter, and then ignore all his other writings which would clearly explain what he was talking about.

Religious leaders should have every right to speak out on any political matter without fear of losing their tax-exempt status. People can pray and speak in public and public schools and invoke the name of Jesus in the course of doing so. These are first amendment rights. It is a violation of the constitution for anyone, especially a national official, legislator, or judges to proscribe people in those practices, or to establish a particular sect to the exclusion of others (ex. The Church of England).

This nation was founded upon the principles of Christianity and ensuring people had the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience. Today’s vocal minority is stripping that right from those that worship God with the blessing and collusion of the federal government to establish their religion, secular humanism, and in the process, laying flat Jefferson’s wall of separation they claim as their ensign.

2 Responses to “Jefferson’s Jericho Wall of Separation”

  • westmoreland:

    Thanks for the article Oak. This topic has been ignored for far too long. It is my strong belief that as believers in God and freedom of religion that we have made a gross error of judgment when we have stepped aside of this debate with the excuse that it does not affect us because we can always pray whenever we like. In doing so we become slothful and contemptible stewards both in protecting the rights of freedom and in the work of our God. If we say it does not affect us because we have religion in our homes and churches, we cast aside our fellow Americans and their children as if they were of no value and sentence them to lives void of the positive and moral influences of religion. 

    It disgusts me that a government established to protect the rights of worship of the weakest of Americans now sees fit to use its powers to prevent the vocal prayer of a child, the viewing of the Ten Commandments, the carrying of scriptures, and the wearing of religious symbols in public schools. But perhaps even worse is that it has happened under our watch. I fear the wrath of our God. 

    It has been a popularly held notion that the drifting and moral degradation of the world has been a pull upon the religious and has resulted in the lowering of standards by those who would otherwise be a righteous people. However, the world has always been worldly. What more could be expected of the world? It is God’s people on whom He has given the charge to set the standard and raise the values of the world to save it. I believe the world rises and sinks on the moral tide of the saints and not the other way around. When the Lord returns to claim His own, will he condemn the world for doing what it has always done in ignorance or will He ask of His stewards what they have done with the valuable treasure that He had left in their care? Can we expect anything other than the same condemnation as the slothful steward who hid his talent in the earth and used every excuse imaginable for his lack of action? I think not. Fortunately it is not yet too late to repent and change our course. May our voices be loud, clear and strong and our standard high and bright.

  • Marjohna:

    The theives have long been upon the Master’s estate.  It is high time that the stewards rally and drive them off.