“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” – The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution
These words have been used by left-leaning courts and organizations to fabricate a so-called “wall of separation between church and state,” a metaphor that has been used to censor any public acknowledgement of religious faith.
But was that the founding fathers’ intention? Hardly. And the Sept. 17 anniversary of the signing of the Constitution is the perfect time to put the disinformation to rest.
In fact, the individual most frequently cited by left-wing historians as the chief architect of this “wall” did not participate in the writing or ratification of what has become known as the “establishment clause” of the Constitution. That individual is Thomas Jefferson.
The 1800 presidential election between Jefferson and John Adams was one of the most vicious in our nation’s history. In Connecticut, where the Congregational Church was still recognized as the state’s established church, church members were observed burying family Bibles in the backyard out of fear that Jefferson was going to ban the Word of God.
When Jefferson became president, he received a congratulatory message from a Connecticut group, the Danbury Baptist Association. They hoped that his well-known stance against any state-established church could influence the situation with the Congregational Church in Connecticut.
But Jefferson felt very strongly that the federal government should not interfere with a state’s authority to create or fund such a church, and therefore nothing could be done by Washington, D.C., about the congregationalists. Jefferson replied with the now-infamous words: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their [national] legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
Interestingly, Jefferson allowed — and even attended — church services in the U.S. Capitol, the Treasury and War Department buildings, and the Supreme Court. Doesn’t sound like someone that was concerned about the government’s participation in the expression of religious faith, as some would see it. Today, Jefferson would probably find himself in a courtroom being stared down at by an ACLU attorney.
So, where did the present misinterpretation of this so-called “wall” really come from, if not from Jefferson? Much of it comes from the 1947 Supreme Court decision, Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township.
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.