Constitution Day prompts the question: Who really built the Wall?

Posted: Sep 18, 2006 10:56 AM

“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.

In Everson, the plaintiff (Everson) and the ACLU objected to the state of New Jersey using tax dollars to support school bus transportation for parochial students. While the court ruled in favor of the state’s funding, Associate Justice Hugo Black inserted the following words in the opinion: “The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.”

Never underestimate the power of just a few words, especially when placed in the wrong hands. Those who sought to remove America’s Christian heritage used this assertion as a blank check to claim that the so-called “wall of separation” does not allow any public expression of faith, since any such expression would be a breach, regardless what the founding fathers intended!

Joseph Story (1779-1845) a former U.S. Supreme Court justice and Harvard Law professor, wrote in his 1833 volume, Commentaries on the U.S. Constitution: “...The duty of supporting religion, and especially the Christian religion, is very different from the right to force the consciences of other men, or to punish them for worshipping God in the matter, which, they believe, their accountability to Him requires... The rights of conscience are, indeed, beyond the just reach of human power.”

The last sentence is particularly instructive, as groups such as the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have gone out of their way, through the courts, to violate the rights of conscience of sincere religious believers.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, expressed its frustration over the misuse of this metaphor. Ruling on the constitutionality of a Ten Commandments display in Kentucky, the court wrote, “This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state.”

It’s about time that a court recognized that this wall is just part of a house of cards, ready to fall at any minute. Hopefully, as more and more truth shines down on the true meaning of Jefferson’s words, the ACLU’s house of cards will come toppling down, and our First Liberty — religious freedom — will thrive once again.

Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor who held various posts in the departments of Justice and Interior during the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation. He is co-author with Craig Osten of the book The ACLU vs. America: Exposing the Agenda to Redefine Moral Values.