“Separation of Church and the State”
is not “Of the Church from the State.”
Let our freedom hold sway
in the politics’ fray.
It is part of our Founders Estate.
President Obama and Hillary Clinton are leading the fight to change our constitutional right of “Freedom of Religion” to “Freedom of Worship” and even “Freedom From Religion.” But from the beginning it was not so.
It is no exaggeration to say that on Sundays in Washington during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and of James Madison (1809-1817) the state became the church. Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives. Madison followed Jefferson’s example, although unlike Jefferson, who rode on horseback to church in the Capitol, Madison came in a coach and four. Worship services in the House–a practice that continued until after the Civil War–were acceptable to Jefferson because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary. Preachers of every Protestant denomination appeared. (Catholic priests began officiating in 1826.) As early as January 1806 a female evangelist, Dorothy Ripley, delivered a camp meeting-style exhortation in the House to Jefferson, Vice President Aaron Burr, and a “crowded audience.” Throughout his administration Jefferson permitted church services in executive branch buildings. The Gospel was also preached in the Supreme Court chambers.
Jefferson’s actions may seem surprising because his attitude toward the relation between religion and government is usually thought to have been embodied in his recommendation that there exist “a wall of separation between church and state.” In that statement, Jefferson was apparently declaring his opposition, as Madison had done in introducing the Bill of Rights, to a “national” religion. In attending church services on public property, Jefferson and Madison consciously and deliberately were offering symbolic support to religion as a prop for republican government.
Thomas Jefferson’s reply of January 1, 1802, to an address of congratulations from the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association contains a phrase familiar in today’s political and judicial circles: “a wall of separation between church and state.” Many in the United States, including the courts, have used this phrase to interpret the Founders’ intentions regarding the relationship between government and religion, as set down by the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . . .” However, the meaning of this clause has been the subject of passionate dispute for the past fifty years.