Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Separation of Church and State-A Wall Still Waiting to be Finished

When looking at the history of the United States and the issue of the separation of church and state one can see that the debate over what role religion should or should not play in the government has existed since the beginning. (1)

Today religious conservatives complain that religion has become too far removed from politics and that we must get back to the “original values” (Christian) this country was built on. More liberal and secular citizens claim that the founding fathers established a complete separation of church and state and thus religion should play no part in politics. Now there are no quick and simple answers but by looking at the past I believe we can gain a greater confidence both about what was originally intended for the relationship between the church and the state and more importantly how we should approach that relationship today.

When looking at the history of United States the fact is that there has never been a complete separation of church and state. The wall of separation that most secularists speak of is an ideal that has never been fully realized. The line of separation was created early but it was less of a wall and more like a fence with holes in it allowing for the kids on one side (religion) to play in their neighbors’ yard (state). The Christian religion has played a massive role in our history, both good and bad, and that cannot be ignored nor should it be. But I will argue that while it was never achieved or codified those who are considered the founding fathers of America desired to point the country towards a future where the church and the state would be completely separated. Further looking at the modern world I will argue that the complete separation of church and state is the most rational and best way to ensure the continuation of liberty and protection of human rights for everyone both in this country and the rest of the world.

To determine what ideals or values this country was founded on or what the original intent for the relationship between the church and the state was one must first decide whose opinions are being given the most authority to answer that question. Usually when people discuss this issue they tend to focus on the ideas and opinions of the men who were leaders in the Revolution and the framers of the Constitution and refer to them as the founding fathers. So while their opinions are not the only ones of value and should not be the only ones examined in the history of this issue for the sake of this piece I will inspect their ideas the most closely. With that said I contend that the majority of these men hoped for a complete separation between church and state even though it was never accomplished. To demonstrate this I will examine a few important political works of the time, the actions of the early presidents and the religious context of the day.

Now the relationship between the church and the state was a significant issue during the Revolutionary era even before the war began but it became particularly important after the war as the individual states began drafting their own constitutions. There were many people who desired for the church to maintain a role in the government just as it had in England and every other European nation since the time of Constantine. But there were two groups that came together to try and establish for the first time ever a true break between the church and the state. What’s amazing is the fact that the two groups that banded together were the two furthest apart on the religious spectrum. It was the Enlightenment rationalists and the Evangelical Christian denominations who first wanted to draw a line between government and religion. Now both groups had very different motives for wanting this separation. The rationalists fought for separation to guard the government against the often negative influence of religion while the Evangelicals fought for separation to ensure that the government and other denominations did not interfere with their churches. So while both groups were vital to beginning the process of separating the church from state the men who are considered the founding fathers tended to fall into the first group of the Enlightenment rationalists who desired to protect the government from the church as much as protect the church from the government. And while they never fully succeeded in creating a hard separation between church and state they were able to at least aim the country towards that goal with their political writings and deeds.

The first issue that must be examined to understand the complex nature of the relationship between church and state is the difference between the state governments and the federal government during this time period. The federal government was not the dominate force that it is today rather it was the individual states that held the power to determine what the relationship between the government and religion would be for their particular state. Each state was established separately and most had some form of religious rules built into their laws as well as a state sponsored church. After the revolution the states began to draw up their own constitutions and the issue of what role religion should play in the government was dealt with differently in each state. This is one reason it is difficult to say what relationship between church and state was “originally intended” because it varied depending on what state you were in. In each state those who fought the hardest against the idea of separating the church from the state were the members of the state sponsored churches who wanted to maintain their existing privileges most importantly receiving state taxes. These people used a lot of rhetoric about how Christianity (their form) was a necessary part of any form of good government but when one examines it closely one finds that the main issue was that these people wanted to keep their churches’ coffers full. So in each state it was the more secular groups and the smaller, less powerful churches, many of which tended to be evangelical that banded together and fought for the separation of church and state.

To get a glimpse of this I want to look at what occurred in the state of Virginia. Before the end of the war Thomas Jefferson proposed a bill for the state of Virginia in 1779 that would guarantee complete legal equality for citizens of all religions, and of no religion. Jefferson made it very clear that his bill was, “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, The Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and the infidel of every denomination.” (Mahometan=Muslim and Hindoo=Hindu) This was the first call for separation between religion and government in any of the 13 states and it was an extreme one. Jefferson did not hide behind religious language but rather called for a complete and total separation of church and state. What followed was a fierce debate that would last seven years before a revised version of Jefferson’s bill was enacted. It was in 1786 that Virginia passed the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom and this bill was truly innovate in the history of politics and it was the model used for drafting the federal Constitution.

In Virginia it was the Episcopal Church (the denomination that broke off from the Church of England) that was the official religion of the state. Its members fought hard to maintain their status as the official church of the state. During the debates various “compromises” were offered trying to soften Jefferson’s bill. Then in 1784 Patrick Henry introduced a new bill that he thought would better serve the state and make more people happy. The bill would tax all citizens for the support of “teachers of the Christian religion.” What this meant is that the bill would simply give more denominations the right to the state’s taxes. So instead of the Episcopal Church being the single church receiving tax money there would now be multiple denominations receiving tax money. This idea pleased many people because it seemed to allow for a certain a level of religious freedom while also affirming that the government should support Christianity and its churches and most importantly it meant money for more churches. So many people who originally supported Jefferson’s idea of a complete separation of church and state switched sides once they saw they could get their hands on the state’s tax money. But the fight was not over. Along with Jefferson James Madison was strongly against this calling instead for a complete separation between church and state. In his “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments” he noted that historically religion has mainly had a negative effect on government and it has never aided in maintaining people’s liberty. He said, “If Religion be not within cognizance of Civil government, how can its legal establishment be said to be necessary to Civil Government? What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in many instances they have seen the upholding of the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberty of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it [liberty], needs them not.”

Jefferson and Madison valued reason above all other virtues and saw it as the tool to establishing a just government. They believed that the God that existed had created man to use reason, not faith, to structure life, both politically and socially. So while their ideas clearly appealed to other secularists and freethinkers they also influenced many nonconformist and Evangelical Protestant groups (Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists and Quakers) to join the fight against mixing religion and government. These groups began to believe that the separation between the church and the state was the system that would best allow them to live out their beliefs and increase their numbers. Most Evangelicals believed that there should be no mediator (Church or State, Priest or King) between the individual and God and thus any interference from the civil government would serve only as an obstacle between them and their God. Perhaps even more importantly Evangelicals wanted the freedom to be able to proselytize and spread their beliefs without worrying about oppressive laws or systems being set up against them and they certainly didn’t want to pay taxes to other denominations who they believed did not properly follow God’s laws or understand his will. So again despite their differing motivations the Enlightenment rationalists and the more evangelical branches of Protestantism agreed that the separation of church and state was the best way to go.

This combination worked well so that by the time of the General Assembly in 1785-86 Patrick Henry’s bill was rejected and Jefferson’s bill was again taken up. Jefferson’s bill did not make it through the assembly untouched rather it was revised in certain areas to lessen the overtly secular language of Jefferson. In the original bill Jefferson praised reason before God saying, “Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free…” The bill was then revised to minimize Jefferson’s praise of reason and place God first reading instead, “Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free…” Despite this change the assembly did overwhelmingly rejected the attempt by some to name Jesus Christ in the bill verses a nonsectarian deity. Jefferson would later say that the rejection of mentioning Jesus proved that the law was meant to protect believers of any religion and nonbelievers alike not simply Christians. And despite the mention of God no person had to affirm any religious belief to run for public office in Virginia. The bill made itself quite clear saying, “Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities…” This fact, that one did not have to affirm any religion, doctrine or creed to run for office was truly ground-breaking in the history of politics and was extremely influential both to the other states and ultimately to the very lay out and language of the Constitution.

On a side note perhaps my favorite part of the bill is when the members of the assembly acknowledged that people in the future would have the right to change the bill but that if they did and thus minimized or revoked the freedom of conscience enabled by the bill they would be wrong. They wrote, “And though we will know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act will be infringement of natural right.”  This bill was a clear example of what Jefferson, Madison and other major founders (Adams, Monroe, Franklin) desired for the relationship between the church and state both on a federal and state level.

To see how revolutionary Virginia’s bill was one need only look around at the other states and their slow development towards any separation of church and state. Massachusetts’ constitution (1780) only extended equal protection of the laws and the right to hold office to Christians. Catholics were only allowed to hold office if they took a special oath renouncing papal authority in any matter, “civil, ecclesiastical or spiritual.” The New York State constitution gave political equality to Jews but not to Catholics. Catholics were not allowed to hold public office until 1806. Maryland gave equal rights to Protestants and Catholics but not to Jews, freethinkers or deists. In Delaware officeholders had to take an oath affirming belief in the Trinity. Jefferson had a right to be very proud of Virginia and during his travels in Europe Jefferson he wrote, “it is comfortable to see the standard of reason at length erected, after so many ages, during which the human mind has been held in vassalage by kings, priests, and nobles, and it is honorable for us, to have produced the first legislature who had the courage to declare, that the reason of man may be trusted with the formation of his own opinions.” Jefferson was clear men did not need God’s (any version) direct involvement to form a proper and just government rather they only needed human reason.

The battle in the individual states raged for years but if we look at the development of the federal Constitution one sees that it is the bill from Virginia, not any of the other states that served as the model for the Constitution and helped instill in it an openly secular tone that should not be ignored. Now just as in Virginia there was a debate over the issue of what role religion should or should not play in the federal government but compared to other issues like slavery and protecting states with smaller populations from those with larger ones religion was not the most pressing issue at the time so the debate was not as fierce as it had been in Virginia itself. Now most people know the first amendment and most people view the amendment as a way to protect religion from any government interference and often the discussion ends there. Far fewer see it or the rest of the Constitution as also trying to protect the government from religion. Yet the overall tone of the Constitution seems to be calling for both. Article 6, section 3 follows the lead of Virginia and states that federal officials, elected or appointed, “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Again to people today this might not sound like much but for the time period it was significant and carried great weight. Almost all public offices at the time required religious oaths or tests. By doing away with these tests the Constitution was showing that it never intended religion to affect one’s ability to hold public office or what one did once they got into that office. No one should be swearing on a bible or swearing to God instead the door was open to any and all comers regardless of their beliefs. Public office was not meant to be limited only to men from certain Protestant denominations although in actual practice it has been for most of history. To best understand what this clause meant at the time one only need look at those who opposed its inclusion in the Constitution. At the Massachusetts convention one man argued that if the President was not required to take a religious oath, “a Turk, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, and what is worse than all, a Universalist, may be President of the United States.” (And God knows that you can’t be a good leader of a democracy intended to protect people’s human rights if you don’t believe that most of them are going to burn in hell for all of eternity)

Beyond article 6 perhaps the most telling and obvious thing that proves the Constitution’s secular nature and its authors’ intentions to make it such is the fact that no where in the entire document is the word “God” ever used. There is no mention of God, Jesus Christ, Christianity, a Creator or even Providence. Even Virginia’s bill had included reference to a nonsectarian deity but not the Constitution. Many people today argue that this is because God was such an obvious part of the founders’ beliefs and motives in writing the Constitution that they didn’t even have to write it, it was just assumed. That is of course ridiculous just by the fact that some reference to a God or Creator had been placed in all the other political documents of the time period. Further if one doubts the magnitude of leaving God out of the Constitution one must again only listen to the opponents of the Constitution. Reverend John M. Mason said the exclusion of God from the Constitution was, “an omission which no pretext whatever can palliate,” and if Americans became as “irreligious” as the Constitution then, “we will have every reason to tremble, lest the Governor of the universe, who will not be treated with indignity by a people more than by individuals, overturn from its foundation the fabric we have been rearing, and crush us to atoms in the wreck.” The writers of the Constitution knew the implications of what they were doing when they left God out of the Constitution. It wasn’t an accident it was an obvious statement that God (any version) was not needed and did not belong there.

Eventually the other states took notice of Virginia’s bill and the federal Constitution and began to follow suit separating the church from the state. South Carolina and Georgia removed all religious barriers to equal rights between 1789 and 1792. Delaware stopped requiring its officeholders to take an oath affirming belief in the Trinity. Pennsylvania changed its constitution to allow Jews (but not atheists) to hold office. Still most of the states took a long time to change. Connecticut didn’t disestablish the Congregationalist Church until 1818 and did not provide equal rights to Jews until 1844 while Massachusetts did not remove all religious restrictions from the law until 1833. Before these changes Jefferson had said that these two states were, “the last retreat of Monkish darkness, bigotry, and abhorrence of those advances of the mind which had carried the other states a century ahead of them. They still seemed to be exactly where their forefathers were…and to consider, as dangerous heresies, all innovations good or bad.” Jefferson did not live to see Massachusetts finally change but did write happily to John Adam after Connecticut disestablished the Congregationalist Church, “this den of the priesthood is at last broken up, and that a protestant popedom is no longer to disgrace the American history and character.”

Now while changes in the laws were extremely slow all the states did move towards creating some sort of real separation between church and state so that a person’s religion at least did not affect the protection of one’s political rights (being able to vote, hold office, etc) serving as proof of the direction the founding fathers had desired the country to go. So while the fight over where that line should be drawn, especially concerning moral issues has never been resolved when it comes to the views of those men we have built monuments to and placed on our money and called our founding fathers it is clear that they placed reason above religion and pointed the nation towards the ideal of a total separation of church and state. Still it must be noted that the Constitution and Virginia’s bill of religious freedom were not all encompassing rather they could only serve as examples to the other states of what they should do and what direction the country should move towards in the future. The complete separation of church and state was never forced upon all the states rather it has been a long and slow process growing towards that ultimate goal that our founders desired.

Moving beyond the political documents of the time the actions and words of the early presidents serve as further proof that the founding fathers ultimately envisioned a complete separation of the church and state. In a letter written to the Jews of Rhode Island in 1790 George Washington wrote, “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunity of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens…May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be non to make him afraid.” This was said years before most states even gave Jews equal rights with other Christian citizens (43 before Massachusetts and 54 years before Connecticut) and yet Washington is clear that the government was meant to protect the complete freedom of conscience for all men. This meant that no religion can be permitted to control the government.

Of the first five presidents John Adams, the second president, was the closest to what modern conservative Christians would consider a Christian. He was a Unitarian. Unitarians are most commonly associated with rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity. Concerning their other doctrines they have changed over time but by the 18th and 19th century Unitarians (sometimes called rationalist Unitarians) had questioned more and more of the traditional doctrines and ultimately rejected the inspiration of the bible, miracles, the virgin birth and the resurrection. Many even became universalists. During his presidency Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli (1797). The treaty was signed with the country of Tripoli which was a Muslim nation. Article 11 of the treaty said outright, “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” So, “the government of the United State is not in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,” that is about as explicit a statement as one can make to demonstrate that the intended foundation of the United States was never meant to be Christian and interestingly enough it is found in a treaty written with a Muslim country. This treaty is fairly short, easy to understand and was read aloud to the Senate and it was unanimously approved without objection. Afterward the treaty was even printed and distributed with Article 11, which demonstrates that there was a fair level of acceptance of the idea that the United States was not a “Christian” nation. But opinions did change. This treaty expired after eight years and article 11 was dropped in the new treaty.  

The secular nature of the Constitution and of many of the founding fathers themselves often gets swallowed up due to the strong backlash against rationalist and secularist thought at the turn of the 19th century. Two powerful factors in this change are the French Revolution and the Second Great Awakening. While these topics are books unto themselves they are worth noting. News of the French Revolution was at first celebrated by most Americans. The storming of the Bastille and the publication of the French Declaration of the Rights of Man were seen as victories for the spread of liberty. But as the French Revolution became more and more violent people’s opinions began to change. Many religious leaders blamed the violence in France on the secular and anti-religious thoughts swirling around the Revolution. Basically they argued that the terror in France was an example of what would happen to any government that removed God too far from its center. The Second Great Awakening was more a social movement then a political one as numerous spiritual revivals spread throughout the country. It was characterized by massive gatherings that featured preaching about the second coming of Christ, individual salvation (anti-Calvinist), and living godly (biblical) lives. The services also included prayer meetings, worship services and faith healings. Church memberships soared especially in the more evangelical churches. These events affected the attitudes of people towards the constitution and what the separation of church and state meant or at least what it should mean. While rationalists and Evangelicals maintained their political alliance for a little while longer, both helped to get Jefferson elected, they soon parted ways setting up the dichotomy people are more familiar with today; Evangelicals on one side demanding noninterference from the government with their religion while maintaining their right and duty to try and enact religious laws over the whole country and secularist/rationalists on the other side trying to finally achieve the full separation of church and state begun by the founding fathers meant to protect the government from the church’s interference and thereby protect the rights of those who dissent from the religious conservatives and their efforts to turn their beliefs into laws.

A further hindrance to fully understanding the founding fathers opinions about religion and God is that what they said in public and what they thought in private did not always match up. This is due to certain elitist attitudes associated with the Enlightenment thought both in Europe and America as well as their lives as politicians reliant on the votes of the wider public. Despite their ideas about natural rights and liberty for all most of the founding fathers felt that the philosophical and religious issues that they discussed with each other were above the heads of the common man and even dangerous in their hands. Men who were more open about their deist views (few were openly atheist though many were accused of that) were shunned by both the higher and lower classes. Thomas Paine is a great example of this. Benjamin Franklin, himself a deist, warned against the circulation of cheap pamphlets accessible to the common person dealing with divisive (dangerous) topics like religion. Franklin told a young correspondent who had pamphlets with arguments against the existence of God, “not to attempt unchaining the Tyger [Tiger], but to burn the Piece before it is seen by any other Person.” Basically free thought was okay for those, like Franklin who could handle it but the lower classes with less education could be dangerous if given such information. And beyond this potential “danger” these men ran for public office and they needed public support so they kept certain ideas to themselves and avoided certain issues that might cost them votes and honestly some of them just didn’t care that much about religion, especially about the personal, biblical God of the Evangelicals.

But to truly appreciate and understand the secular nature of the documents and writings of the founding fathers one must understand the religious context of the day and the vital issue of conflicting vocabularies. The fact of the matter is that the God of most of the founding fathers is not the same God as that of modern religious conservatives. When modern religious conservatives and Evangelicals read the word God written by the founders (Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Monroe, Adams, etc) in the 18th century they immediately think of their God and all the baggage that God brings with it. They think of Jesus Christ, original sin, the Trinity, atonement, divine revelation through scripture, the virgin birth, miracles, the resurrection and so on but that is not the God the authors of those documents were thinking about when they used the word. Most of them were some form of deists, Unitarians or more liberal versions of mainline churches and their God served chiefly as the Creator. He created man gave him the gift of reason and then stepped back. God did not intervene with history or give divine commands that must be followed. Man had to use his reason, not revelation, to determine what was moral and good both in society and in government. The God of the bible was not their God so people today who see the word God used by the founding fathers and believe that it refers to Jesus Christ and the God of scripture are mistaken therefore the idea that the founding fathers would now support various conservative Christian agendas to control social behavior along biblical lines are simply wrong. The bible should not be codified into laws in the United States for that by definition infringes on the religious freedom of those who do not accept the bible as some divine manual for life.

The other word that people often misconstrue when they read it is the word Christian. Just like with the word God people today read the word Christian and believe it refers to whatever version of Christianity that they accept or are most familiar with. Most people simply have no concept of the history of Protestantism and the vicious battles that were fought among the denominations. The separation between Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Baptist, and so on have been greatly diminished. People used to die over the differences in these churches’ creeds and now many people don’t even know what the distinctions between them are. Why did Presbyterians used to kill Baptists? Most people simply don’t know. And perhaps this complete lack of knowledge about the historical differences between most Protestant denominations really serves as proof to the positive influence of secularism upon the church. Yet it also serves to cloud modern Christians’ understanding of how essential the idea of the separation of church and state was during the Revolutionary period. In the past each denomination knew what happened when other churches controlled the government it meant persecution and oppression for themselves. There were no “Christian” states or governments rather there were Anglican governments and Lutheran ones and Presbyterian ones and Catholic ones. So separation was not only important to secularist who believed freedom of conscience was a vital part for maintaining true liberty but also to all the smaller churches of the Revolutionary Period (mostly evangelical ones) who believed it was vital for protecting themselves from other denominations and allowing them to live their lives according to their God’s will.

Lastly I will point out that one of the best things about the American system of government is that it was made to be adaptive and correctable. The founding fathers were not perfect, not even close, though most Americans treat them as such. So while it is important to look back and try and understand their ideas and where they were coming from the fact is that just because they thought or wanted something in the 18th century does not make it right or applicable to America in the 21st century. So even if one could prove that the founding fathers envisioned America as a Christian nation to be governed by the religious tenants of some version of the Christianity, though I think it’s clear they cannot, that does not make that idea right or good for America today. The fact that throughout American history God/gods have always pushed their way into politics doesn’t mean that they should be allowed to stay there. Rather we should continue the fight to fully separate religion from our government, like the founding fathers hoped for, so that we don’t just protect religion from the government but also protect the government from the negative influence of religion. John F. Kennedy (He was a Catholic and the first/only non-Protestant president) understood this and believed in a clear and hard separation between the church and the state. In an address given to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960 he said, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote – where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference – and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
            I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish – where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Chruches or any other ecclesiastical source – where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace of the public acts of its officials – and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all” One can only wonder what America would look like today if Kennedy had not been assassinated?

Sadly Kennedy’s rational view and clear understanding of the need for the full separation the church from the state has been largely ignored due to the growing power of the religious right and the political leaders they have been able to elect. George H. W. Bush had no qualms about allowing religion into the government as he said, “I don’t know that atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” This quote demonstrates both Bush’s comfort with the idea of allowing the church to control the government and also his ignorance of history not only of the ideas of the founding fathers but also just the simple history of the pledge of allegiance whose author Francis Bellamy never wrote the line “one nation under God” rather it was inserted over 50 years later in 1954s (see here). But like with much of the past Evangelicals have found ways to rewrite history and make it appear as if their religious views have always been vital in politics and supported by important leaders of the past. But it’s time to grow up and see Evangelical politics for what they are organized attempts to codify their religious beliefs into laws and force them upon others, which funny enough they have been doing ever since they first fought for the separation of Church and state to ensure their own religious freedom. It seems the conflict cannot be avoided because most Evangelicals’ refuse to limit their interpretation of God’s will to their own lives but must also place it over everyone else’s. Their God says he must be your God too. So whether it’s fighting for Sabbath laws, temperance, placing the 10 commandments in public school, fighting against the teaching of evolution, opposing sex education and contraception, or legislating against the natural rights of gay and lesbian Americans these religiously motivated agendas should not be supported and forcefully shoved upon those who do not bow in submission to the same all powerful (small-minded, insecure and hateful) God as the modern Evangelical Christians do.

There has never been a complete separation between the church and the state in America but that does not mean the founding fathers did not want one and it certainly doesn’t mean there should not be one. And while I am just an atheist and as such I apparently cannot be a patriot and should not even be allowed to be a citizen I am also a student of history and agree with James Madison’s statement, “What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority; in many instances they have seen the upholding of the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberty of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it [liberty], needs them not.” So let the wall of separation between church and state be fully completed and respected so we can protect the government from religion as much as we protect religion from the government.

(1) I’ve studied American history and more importantly American religious history both for my undergraduate degree in history and my master’s in theology but I’m by no means an expert so fell free to take that into account when judging this piece. Also I acknowledge that this piece suffers from a lack of proper research. One of the worst parts about living here in Korea is the fact that a majority of my books remain at home in the United States. This means my resources for this piece were far more limited then I would like and while I feel quite confident in all my points the piece would greatly benefit from more direct source material. I used online versions of the Constitution and Treaty of Tripoli. Most of the material concerning the state of Virginia, the points on the federal Constitution and the individual states’ constitutions came from Susan Jacoby’s book “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism” 

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