Report By E.R. Mast
THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
You have been sold a damaged bill of goods. (This is taken from the article --America's Founders of Religion--from the publication of "The Weekly Standard" and my Understanding.
The Supreme Court's doctrine of the wall between church and state has become something more in America than merely legal opinion. It has been built into almost an article of Faith. It must then be what our founding fathers intended for this nation. BUT IS IT?
The odd thing about this is that this view of the Separation of Church and State is relatively new. It was the land mark case in 1945---Emerson vs. the Board of Education -----when the Supreme Court expanded its definition of the Establishment clause of the first Amendment, to ban all public aid to religion declaring that the government must be absolutely neutral, not just between particular religions, but between religion and non-religion. The majority opinion thus was that the clause against the establishment of religion by law was intended to erect a wall of separation between Church and State.
Here in 1998, they are showing at the Library of Congress, thru August 22, a powerful counter to the historical amnesia by which we've forgotten the way things were before that case of "Emerson and the Board of Education."
This showing is organized by the Library's Chief of Manuscripts, James H. Hutson---"Religion and the founding of America's Republic.” It demonstrates with its display of both famous and little known documents, that religion and government were understood by the nations founders to be quite close.
As far as wanting to banish religion from our public life, they saw it as a necessary and vital part of their "Novus Ordo Seclorum.” They sought the official separation of Church and State in order to build civil and religious liberty on the grounds of equal natural right.
But they never intended---indeed, they rejected---the idea of separating religion and politics. Jefferson's so-called wall was then originally intended to be permeable.
This Library exhibition begins by showing how many of the early immigrants who were faced with religious persecution in the old world, sought refuge in the new. They did not always find it, of course, as various sects tried to enforce religions uniformity in the American Colonies. But eventually the Anglican, Baptist, Congregationalist, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Shakers, Quakers, and even Catholic and Jewish groups, now compelled religious tolerance. This however did not mean the decay of religious feeling in the Colonies of America. For the Churches contributed greatly to the American Revolution.
In 1776, by one estimate, between 71 and 77% of Americans attended church services regularly. John Adams reported that the Clergy of Philadelphia preached 'thunder and lightening’ every Sabbath, about British tyranny, while Jefferson described how pulpit oratory ran like a shot of electricity thru the whole colony of Virginia. The Continental Congress was not slow to take advantage of the religious fervor of the new ‘national day of public humiliation,’ fasting and prayer.
One of the more elaborate, later proclamations, issued under the signature of John Jay, first Chief Justice of the U.S., asked that God be our shield in the day of battle, our comforter in the hour of death, and our kind parent, and merciful judge thru time and thru eternity.
Congress followed its own advice, hiring Chaplains, opening its sessions with prayer, and attending religious services. There was also plenty of cooperation between Church and State. The articles governing conduct in the Army and Navy called on officers and soldiers to attend divine services, and prescribe punishment for those who behaved 'indecently or irreverently' in church.
In 1778, Congress ordered that a report to the nation be ready by ministers of the gospel of all denominations, immediately after divine services. When Preachers warned of a shortage of Bibles, a Congressional Committee approved a petition for private publication.
And when it was completed in 1782, Congress then passed a resolution recommending this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States.
But more telling even than the entanglement of the Continental Congress with religion, is the entanglement or religion with the Continental Congress. There was an overwhelming entanglement. And after this exhibition, undeniable--religious sense--to the whole American experiment. In fact American Clergymen of all denominations, assured their pious countrymen, from the beginning of the conflict with Britain, that the resistance movement was right in God's sight, and had His Blessing. It could not have been sustained, and independence could not have been achieved without it. Here is the fundamental, and indispensable contribution of religion and its spokesmen to the coming American Revolution.
The sense of mission is captured in the proposed Great Seal of the U.S. as devised by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in 1776----which borrowed from Exodus to show God's intervening to save the Israelites (now Americans) from Pharaoh--(King George III and his armies.)
The first Congress of the new nation largely patterned itself after the old Congress, hiring Chaplains, issuing proclamations, and attending religious services, and repassing legislature upholding morality in the military. In general the new government held to the idea that religion, being necessary for morality, was also necessary for a Republics government. For the dispositions and habits which to political prosperity, is necessary, indispensable. Thus supports this claim.
Thus declared George Washington’s fair well address........
"In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens."
Now, there are historians and legal scholars who have argued both before and after "Emerson" was handed down in 1947 that a shift occurred during the Revolution that committed the nation to secularism. The battle over religious disestablishment in Virginia, the passage of the first Amendment, and President Jefferson's 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, all point, for these modern secularists--to the conclusion that the founders were actually following European Enlightenment figures especially of John Locke, in seeking to defraud religion and banish it from the public square.
But the direct influence of enlightenment thinkers, turns out to be overstated. In his survey of the political literature of the American founding Donald Lutz, discovered that the most cited book between 1776 and 1805 is the Bible, accounting for about 1/3 of all citations. St. Paul is quoted as often as Montesquier and Blackstone, the two most quoted secular authors, while Deuteronomy alone has almost twice as many citations as Locke.
Even the three paradigmatic episodes of early secularism to which modern separationists point, turns out to teach a different lesson. The disestablishment of religion in Virginia, for instance, derived not from those who opposed religion, but came from Christians who thought that disestablishment was necessary to prevent the subsidizing of one denomination over another. Jefferson's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, was passed by a coalition established under the leadership of James Madison to defeat Patrick Henry's proposed Bill establishing a provision for teachers of the Christian religion, and the majority of votes came from Evangelicals, led by the strong efforts of the Baptists.
So too, a close examination of the First Amendment reveals not secularism, but the intention of Congress to prevent religious favoritism by the National Government.
With members of his own Cabinet, then Jefferson toned down his language so as not to offend religious minded supporters in New England removing references to 'temporal power', and the word 'Eternal' before walls of separation. The results of this discovery, says Hudson, is an awareness that the letter was political and not intended as philosophical education of the First Amendment. Two days after writing the letter, Jefferson attended religious services in the House of Representatives. Indeed, Congress moved to the New Capital building in 1800, various denominations including the Catholics, beginning in 1826---held public Church services in the House Chambers, a practice that continued until after the Civil War. and services were also held in the Supreme Court building. Previously overlooked documents describe how four-hour services were held in the Treasury Building, which was to be used for similar religious services. It is no exaggeration to say that on Sunday's in Washington, D.C., during Thomas Jefferson's presidency, that State became the Church.
Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education, on the minds of peculiar structure, George Washington once noted---'reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National Morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principal.’
The real separation of Church and State---the one the founders actually intended---must allow and encourage a certain mixing of religion and politics on the level of political action. While individuals can worship freely according to the dictates of their consciousness, there must be a common understanding of morality underlying their religious differences.
It is this consciousness that needs to be revived. A government based on the consent of self-governing citizens, cannot remain neutral.
American's should go see this marvelous new exhibition either now at the Library of Congress or when it travels revival like around the country. If enough do, no one will ever be able to claim again that "Emerson" representing the thinking of the founders. And perhaps even the Supreme Court's great wall of separation will AT LAST COME TUMBLING DOWN.