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The Myth of the Separation of Church and State

  • August 16th, 2003 by Pastor Darryl Curtis   |  0 Comments

The First Clause (the Establishment clause) of the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

An Establishmentarian, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is one who favors the establishment of a state church: an advocate of the system by which a government officially recognizes and supports an established church.

The initial immigrants to this country were generally people seeking religious freedom. They were not seeking freedom from religion, but the freedom to practice their religion as they saw fit. The purpose of the “Establishment” clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution was to insure that no religious denomination would have access to the power of the government to suppress other religious denominations, as was the case in the European countries from which most initial immigrants to this country migrated. The religious denomination that enjoyed the use of governmental power to suppress all others was known as the “established” religion, and those who promoted this type of religious favoritism were known as Establishmentarians. For example, in the Vatican, the Catholic Church is the “established” religion.

Thomas Jefferson used the phrase, “Respecting an Establishment of Religion”, and participated in the creation of the First Amendment in order to insure that the United States Government did not establish, or designate, a specific established ecclesiastical organization as a state sponsored Church.

In the second phrase of the first clause of the First Amendment, which disallows the Congress to prohibit the free exercise of religion, Jefferson and the Constitutional Congress made it clear that the “Separation of Church and State” doctrine was coupled with the “Freedom of Religion” doctrine. Every individual is free to worship, or not, as they see fit, and not be bound by the dictates of any specific established ecclesiastical organization. “Separation of Church and State” is an expression, an idiom with a specific meaning, that is, that there will not be a “Church of the USA”, in the way that the Anglican Church was the “Church of England”.

The “Separation of Church and State” was not designed by Jefferson and the Framers of the Constitution to prohibit the transmission of general Christian values through governmental processes. As a matter of fact, our statutes and laws were, at the time of the Constitution, predominately based upon the Bible and the Magna Carta.

The Supreme Court in our country has ignored the meaning of the idiom “Establishment of Religion”, and used the expression “Separation of Church and State”, to institute laws and regulations that prohibit the government from participating in the promotion of religious values in general. The “Separation of Church and State” idea was not designed to stop the government from participating in the promotion of general religious values, but to keep the government from establishing a specific ecclesiastical organization as an official state religion.

For example, government funding of the tuition of children that go to a Catholic School is not a violation of the true meaning of the “Establishment” clause as long as the government also funds the tuition of children of children that go to any other religious or non-religious school. By funding all religious or secular schools, the government is not officially recognizing and supporting any specific ecclesiastical organization as a state religion, but simply participating in the promotion of religious values in general, which is not prohibited by the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not prohibit governmental participation in general concepts of religion, but simply the choice of one ecclesiastical organization over another.

My final example is that it would be a violation of the “Establishment” clause if churches of the Baptist denomination were tax exempt to the exclusion of all other churches. Since that is not true, i.e. churches of the Baptist denomination are tax exempt as are churches of all other denominations, no specific religion is being established and the “Establishment” clause is not being violated.

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