From Chuck Colson:
Thanks very much for your question. I think I know where you are coming from, but I might change the question this way: How do we get people to quit mis-using the phrase “separation of church and state”? Because, in the end, Christians should support the separation of church and state.
Let’s look at this history behind the phrase. In 1802, newly elected president Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist association of
Since that day,
Let’s find out what
When our third President described the First Amendment as erecting a “wall of separation between Church and State,” he was not inventing some new idea foreign to the rest of the founders.
In 1791, this conviction was enshrined in the Bill of Rights, which amended the Constitution to guarantee some of our most important “inalienable rights.” First among these was the freedom of religion:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”
Though activist judges and legislators have tried for years to twist these words to ban religion from political life, an honest look at history shows how our Founding Fathers really felt about religion (particularly Christianity) in government.
Today’s media and political elite scorn Americans for voting based on a candidate’s moral values. But John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, felt differently.
“[It] is the duty,” he wrote, “as well as the privilege...of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
In July 2007, our current President told CBN news that “
“The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principals of Christianity....I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”
In words which are today emblazoned on the walls of his memorial in
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God?”
By 1962, the Supreme Court had declared Bible reading and school-sponsored prayers unconstitutional.
But back in 1779, George Washington expressed his position quite clearly.
“What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.”
So why did the same men who believed so deeply in the political value of Christianity fight and vote for an amendment that codified the “separation of church and state”?
Perhaps the author of this concept can explain it best. In his 1786
“[No] man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened [sic]...on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion...”
In many ways, this radical idea which bore fruit in American political and religious tolerance began more than 1700 years earlier, when Jesus urged the religious leaders of His day to “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
Christianity stands apart as the only major faith that believes that because every individual human being is created in the image of God, freedom of religion is every human’s right. Christianity alone also insists upon a distinction between the duties and powers of religion and state. The Bible makes it clear that both the Church and the Government have been instituted by God, and that each serves a unique and necessary purpose (Matthew 16:18, Romans 13:1).
In the past, well-meaning individuals have mixed Church and State, or allowed one institution to control the other. Today, judges and lawmakers seek to isolate the two by scrubbing religious references, ideas and even morals from public life—an extreme sentiment that the Founding Fathers clearly did not share.
But while we, as Christians, may find it frustrating how often the concept of Separation of Church and State is abused, we must resist the temptation to reject it altogether. After all, it is because of this radical idea and the men who were willing to die for it that we now enjoy the free exercise of religion. And it’s this radical idea that Christians must always defend—especially nowadays, as you’ve heard me say many times on BreakPoint and my Two-Minute Warning, as the forces of secularism in the media, the courts, and now the government itself seek to suppress freedom of religion.
Thank God for the real meaning of “Separation of Church and State.”
(Special thanks to BreakPoint intern Shane Morris for his help in developing this response.)Chuck Colson