Separation of Church and State

Hi -

 What is the source for the concept of Separation of Church and State in US Law?  Thanks.

The First Amendment. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

The first amendment:

Specifically: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (Bill of Rights, Amendment 1)

Someone has a research paper due…

The First Amendment reads in part “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This mirrors provisions which existed at the time in various state constitutions. The phrase “separation of church and state” is drawn from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists in which he states

The actual phrase “separation of church and state” is not found anywhere in the Constitution. It was coined by Thomas Jefferson in a reply letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. The actual wording was “wall of separation between Church and State.”

The First Amendment begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” before going on to protect freedom of speech, assembly and petition. This opening portion of the amendment is known as “the establishment clause”. Traditionally, this has been interpreted by courts to mean that people have freedom of religion and, if they so desire, freedom from it besides.

The phrase “separation between church and state” was first notably used by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, which had been lobbying to get him to declare a national day of fasting. He explained why he was declining to do so by observing that the framers of The Constitution had enacted The First Amendment, “thus building a wall of separation between church and state”.

It is interesting to note that at the time Baptists had a reputation for being wary of government involvement in religion, and Jefferson begins his letter by observing that he shares their belief that religion is a private matter “between a man and his god”.
It is probably also worth noting that Jefferson was a Deist and, in his own appraisal, not a Christian.

Otto, you beat me to it by two minutes!


Well… yes. No. Maybe. Who knows? TJ gave conflicting statements on his religious beliefs, and people have been arguing about it ever since. Suffice to say, no one can really nail down his actual religious beliefs and/or affiliations.

Two days ago, I sent a few friends a paragraph from The Onion which announces “Church, State Joyfully Reunite After 230-Year Trial Separation.” One of the people I sent it to, a bible-thumper if there ever was one (but a nice guy that this atheist enjoys talking to), replied:

Before I broach the subject with him again, can anyone shed light on what he’s talking about?

He’s evidently referring to the 1962 SCOTUS decision banning organized prayer in public schools.

It should be pointed out that the First Amendment and other legal restraints do not actually enforce a separation of church and state. What they do is restrain the state, but they do not have any bearing on the activities of a church. You will ocassionally find this so-called separation used as an argument about why churches should not be involved in politics, sponsor political debates or endorse candidates, etc., but this is unfounded. The First Amendment requires that the state be uninvolved in the church, but it does not require any church to be uninvolved in the state.

They did it, basically, because they were tired of seeing the Catholic Church, which was basically running everything over in Europe, ruin everything by messing up the government’s priorities. How do you THINK things got so screwed-up during the Middle Ages?

I think you’ll find that the Church of England was fairly active in one country…can’t recall the name off the top of my head…

Depends. Does the church want to keep it’s tax-exempt status? If so, it may want to limit it’s “involvement in the state” to somewhat less than it’s involvement in being a church for it’s members. There are lots of IRS rules & Tax Court decision involving just where the line is on this.

The ‘separation of church and state’ enters into this because the government is, in effect, subsidizing churches by making them exempt from the taxes that the rest of us have to pay. Applies even more now with “faith-based” church programs accepting government money. Some churches are hesitating to participate in this, thinking that if you take government money, eventually the government is going to put requirements on you.

My, it’s so endearing to see someone as proud of his ignorance as are you. The particular government-run church in question was a very vehemently anti-Catholic group, specifically the Anglican Church.