Separation of Church and State is a myth. That must be true since I hear it all the time. I also hear (often) that America is a Christian nation founded by men of strong religious convictions. I even periodically hear that the words “wall separating church and state” in fact came from a personal letter from Thomas Jefferson and are not found in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution so the idea has no legal standing. Verily, the Constitution was set up to keep the state out of the church – but not the church out of the state.
There is fact and there there is conjecture. Let’s consider which is which in the above arguments.
Thomas Jefferson did author the aforementioned phrase and it clearly does not appear in any of this nation’s founding documents. Those facts fail to acknowledge that the separating wall metaphor very aptly reflects the deliberate intentions of the framers of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. This explicit and intentional separation is evidenced as much by what is included in these documents as by what is explicitly omitted, especially when one contextualizes these facts with the religious piety of many of the authors and those who influenced them.
When Jefferson penned The Declaration of Independence he included a poetic reference to a Creator. The Articles of Confederation gave credit to the “Great Governor of the World”. The Massachusetts constitution of 1780 even stated in Article 2 that “It is the duty of all men to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe”. Other early state constitutions had very similar language.
Given these examples I assert that it was no oversight that God was omitted completely from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Not one devotional mention of God, Great Governor, Creator, or even a Supreme Being can be found in these documents. Moreover the necessity of religion for Democracy or morality is also not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution. Not once.
It was largely because of these omissions that many anti-federalists of the day fought against the adoption of the Constitution as they considered the document to be completely irreligious. The only explicit reference to religion in the Constitution is found in Article 6 where it is declared that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. Worse still, the very first amendment of the Bill of Rights states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
We are far beyond personal letters here, these were the serious legal documents the founding fathers created to forge the core tenants of this country and neither God nor religion had any mention in them except to explicitly say that they should be kept out of government.
That even a few of the founding fathers were very religious makes the Constitutional omissions all the more striking. They clearly recognized and understood that the freedom to practice different religions would demand that government would never promote one religion over another. Their interest in preserving religion is evidenced in the lengths they went to keep the two mutually exclusive.
It is only in through this established and legally respected separation that we can protect religion from becoming state sponsored and systematically exploited. Only then can the government focus on doing the singular job of protecting its free citizens rather than persecuting those who practice a different form of faith…or none at all.
May we forever maintain the wall separating church and state. Our country is far greater for it.