On the Wall

Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state? There is no such thing … I mean it just doesn’t exist in America for a purpose, because we are a Christian nation.” – Christine O’Donnell

Although Christine O’Donnell said these words, she is not the lone voice regarding this matter. Her quote represents an example of the Tea Party’s affinity for revisionist history made to accommodate both political and religious ideologies.

First, these ideological zealots are correct – “separation of church and state” is not directly in the Constitution; however US Supreme Court, through its Constitutional powers, first applied the phrase in Reynolds vs. United States (98 US 154, 1878) and mentioned the phrase over 20 times ever since.

Secondly, since we hear Tea Party candidates frequently proclaiming the intent of our Founding Fathers, I thought it was time to research this group. Some were public about their religion while others were private. The vast majority were Protestant and Episcopalians, with the remaining being Roman Catholic, Unitarians, Dutch Reformed, Congregationalists, and even a variety of skeptics. Since many regard James Madison as the Father of the US Constitution, I set out to discover his view of the First Amendment, thus include some of his quotes below.

“Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.”

“The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

“This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator.”

“Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body.”

“Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.”

“Are the Quakers and Mennonites the only sects who think a compulsive support of their Religions unnecessary and unwarrantable? can their piety alone be entrusted with the care of public worship? Ought their Religions to be endowed above all others with extraordinary privileges by which proselytes may be enticed from all others? We think too favorably of the justice and good sense of these denominations to believe that they either covet pre-eminences over their fellow citizens or that they will be seduced by them from the common opposition to the measure.”

“Because finally, “the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience” is held by the same tenure with all our other rights.”

Let us not forget these Thomas Jefferson words in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Let us not forget that James Madison wrote these words in 1785, four years before our new nation submitted the Constitution to the states for ratification.

Let us also not forget that at the time of the Constitution’s ratification, several states had state-established churches.

Let us not forget that the US Supreme Court (in Reynolds) quoted Jefferson’s letter for the Danbury Baptist, who the state jailed for illegal preaching that was against the state-sponsored religion.

Let us not forget that In God We Trust first appeared on coins in 1864 as the country faced rebuilding from the Civil War; and the phrase didn’t appear on paper currency until 1957.

Let us not forget that Congress adopted In God We Trust as our country’s official motto in 1956.

Let us not forget that One nation under God was first used in our Pledge of Allegiance in 1948 and officially added in 1954.

Let us not forget that the 1950s marked a time when the world faced growing concerns about Communism.

Let us not forget that in this election season and beyond, that history can help us protect us from revisionists who seek to force their values on everyone.

21 thoughts on “On the Wall

  1. Truly outstanding history research, my friend. And a VERY valuable reminder that so many of the additions of the word “God” to our money and pledge were simple reflexive responses to what was referred to as “Godless Communism”, as though speaking the word “God” would cause a Communist-at-heart to burst into flames! I did remember a fair number of these facts from my school days. I wonder how many are still taught today, and how wide-spread throughout the country.
    Perhaps we need to flag this page of your blog as required reading for candidates on both sides of the aisle? I’d certainly vote for THAT! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • John,
      As you know, there are too many misconceptions out there … and gosh knows how the political season fans the fire for misinformation. This post brewed in my mind for a while, and yes, I took some time to research. BTW … your “burst into flames” comment is a hoot … but right on target. Thanks for the support and comment.


    • Nonnie,
      She is unquestionably pathetic, misinformed, and uninformed … and hopefully we have heard the last of her. Let us not forget Delaware’s Congressional candidate Glen Urquhart citing that Hitler initiated the phrase “separation of church and state”. This idea seems to have originated by a revisionist group, not Urquhart. Interestingly, Urquhart and O’Donnell were on the ballot at the same time, and each received about 40% of the state-wide vote. Thanks for visiting.


    • Hansi,
      Well, I know that I won’t have any impact on the Tea Partiers. Then again, they aren’t my audience. However, I simply hope to either make someone think or provide information for others to use. Unfortunately though, there are many people who should read this post. Thanks for commenting.


  2. I’ve reread your well-researched entry several times today. I plan to use it as a key source in future discussions on the subject of separation of church and state in the U.S. I particularly noted the wording and thought process by James Madison when he talks about the Quakers and Mennonites.


    • The Mennonites’ men came to my small town in 2000, after an F3 tornado hit town. They did huge amounts of labor without pay. Everything they did was at their own expense. They roofed my garage in one afternoon.
      Not one of the men evangelized anywhere here that I know of.
      They did “God’s work” quietly and without complaint or boasting.
      When I thanked them, an older gentleman told me this: “It’s no sin to be poor, but it is damned inconveiniant”.
      I have much respect for their faith.
      ‘Nuff said.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sekan,
        Thanks for sharing the wonderful story with many good points. Interestingly, the Mennonites have an interesting history. Although we commonly think of the Amish, but there are other Mennonites living among us with typical lives in society. (I say that respectfully to all). I know both come from the Anabaptist tradition of the European Reformation, but they split somewhere along the way. Of course I don’t know who Madison was referring to in his quote. Nonetheless, you hit the nail on the head when mentioning “much respect for their faith.” Thanks for commenting.


      • Now imagine a similarly pious yet un-prolestyzing group, with (in their most extreme cases) no technology newer than mid-1700s. Rich wood-paneled homes, gorgeous wood furniture, and the pervasive odour of kerosene from the lamps. And even if they’re absolutely destitute, they share all they have.
        Any wonder I love the Amish? Once you prove non-judgmental and respectful, they’ll accept you into their homes, a rare treat. I’d join them, if only they weren’t so uptight about owning computers and TVs! 😀


  3. The “Christian Left” has a quiet, humble interpretation of how to be “saved”.
    I’m a lefty christian.

    “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

    I believe the J.E.D.P. theory of who, how, and why the Bible was written. Scholars who agree with this theory will also tell you that the scriptures extolling the virtues of public preaching and open evangelism are also the scriptures added last, by the “P.” That is, the Priests, and the reasons for adding these dubious “commands” by Christ are mostly self-serving, to further the new church’s political and financial needs.

    Just my opinion, after much research.
    Of course, there is no arguing with someone who simply says “God told me so”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sekan,
      As a side note, (from my perspective), it seems the Christian Right wants to claim they speak for all Christianity … which they don’t. And believe me, in my all my reading about the interchange between science and religion, I find a lot to disagreement with the Christian Right. I’m amused with the “Christian Left” label … after all, it is not one we commonly hear used … but I’ve seen the website/blog … (Hmmm – maybe you sent it to me) … 🙂

      Meanwhile, the context of Biblical writing is quite important … or as you say, the who, how, and why. Right on! Thanks for visiting.


    • Oni,
      Welcome first-time commenter. Not only thanks for the kind words, but for digging into the depths of past posts. This one required some research, but that’s one factor that made it fun to do. Thanks for visiting and commenting.


  4. Wow, what a well needed post! This is a great survey of American history in regard to its place as a “Christian nation”. While it’s true that most (not all) of our founding fathers were Christians themselves, they most certainly set out to not require the same of all citizens. They had come from a “Christian nation” (what better definition than one where the head of the Church and State were one and the same?), and worked very hard to ensure that America would not be that way.

    This is a very common misunderstanding among people both at home and abroad, that we are a “Christian nation”, either by our founding principles or by our current demographics. Neither is true. At best we are about 78% Christian (http://religions.pewforum.org/reports/), but considering that number includes the likes of Mormons, people who only show up to church for Christmas and Easter, and people who call God a “she”, I doubt that those who like to claim that we are a “Christian nation” would really want to associate themselves with that whole group.

    In fact, considering that America is world renown for being by far the biggest producer of child pornography, I would very much like to remove any association between our country and Christianity. But maybe that’s just me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Flashbacks: On Politics | A Frank Angle

  6. I do like and agree with your take on the separation of church and state, Frank. In addition to the many worthy quotes revealed by your research I think it worth noting that some of the founding fathers were deists or otherwise skeptical of religion. I know that Thomas Jefferson was, and likely Benjamin Franklin. That they referred to the deity in their politics is, I submit, neither proof nor disproof of belief. These were wise men who understood the passions and motivations of their time and it is something miraculous that they artfully conceived a constitutional document that dealt effectively with this contentious subject.

    The matter reminds me of another idiomatic concept that is also much abused, “freedom”. One man’s freedom is another’s shackles, as you appropriately mentioned for example in the colonies established to assert religious freedom from the persecution they suffered in Europe. But of course that freedom did not extend to choice of a religion different from their’s nor to freedom from religion. The freedom to own guns has been extended to include assault rifles with large magazines, but so far does not include weapons of mass destruction. In the coming months and the next couple of years I can only advise that we all embrace a healthy skepticism and beware of the slavish use of these terms.

    Liked by 1 person

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