Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Amendment I - "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

There are many aspects of the misconception concerning the Constitution that this series will address that fall chronologically before this particlular subject. In The Bill of Rights, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution the Founders established that freedom of religion is the first and foremost right that we as Americans and free people experience in this country. Therefore since it is a right that the founders understood was the first and most important for our citizens it is the first misconception that this series will address.

The main contention concerning our right in America for religious freedom whether we practice, follow or do not adhere to any particular religion or belief is the false notion of the Separation of Church and State. This notion has been hammered by many for so long that most of the nation accepts falsely that this phrase actually appears in the Constitution. The, "Establishment Clause, " in the First Amendment as quoted above neither contains this phrase nor makes any contention that church should be separated from the state but rather that the Congress shall not establish any religion by law as the religion of the state.

To fully understand what the Founders intent was in this first of our cherished freedoms and where the notion of a, "separation, " of church from state came from certain historical facts must first be established.

When the Pilgrims landed on this continent they were leaving Europe to flee from religious persecution and seeking freedom to worship as they saw fit. This they could not practice in Europe thus their journey to America. As Puritans the Pilgrims because of the European laws concerning state churches could not freely practice their form of belief. Europe then as today established a state sponsored church and one must belong to this particular church to marry, bury, legally recognize a child's birth and in some instances even to own property. For instance in Germany the Lutheran church is the official church of the state and one must be a member of that church for legal purposes. Today one may worship in the church of their choice but must belong to the Lutheran Church to be legal. This ability to worship as one feels while still belonging to the state church was not the case in the 1600's so the Pilgrims embarked on their American journey.

Once they established themselves in the land they actually began practicing a form of the very religious persecution they had fled from. They established a form of Puritanism as the only acceptable religion which resulted in much persecution and eventually the Salem Witch Trials.

The Founding Fathers in order to prevent religious persecution and establish freedom to worship one's God as one would wish stated that Congress shall pass no law establishing religion thus preventing a state sponsored church and religion leaving it up to the individual as how to worship his God or choose not to believe in God at all.

The idea of, "Separation of Church and State, " comes not from the Constitution but from a letter written by the President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The Danbury Baptists were a religious minority in Connecticut, and they complained that in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature - as "favors granted."

Jefferson's response was as follows. "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their 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."

In this Jefferson was once again stating that the state in accordance with the First Amendment shall make no law respecting religious establishment. This mention of , "separation, " by Jefferson has been the hallmark since to falsely state that , "separation of church and state, " is a Constitutional fact.

The original intent of the Founders was not to eliminate church, or religion from the state but to establish that all Americans would have the right and freedom to worship ones God in the manner of their own conscience. They also established that one who does not believe in God would have that right in this nation as well. Eliminating any semblance of religion or practice thereof from state gatherings, buildings, property or anything else pertaining to the state was not their intent or their wish.

The freedom of religion also establishes that if a religious practice is being performed or displayed whether in private or on state property one has the right to not recognize or participate in that meeting, prayer, display or practice.

The words of Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association have been used to attempt to eliminate religion from all aspects of our government which was not the intent of the Founders in establishing freedom of religion. In this country whether one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or even Atheist, one has the right and freedom to practice or not practice their beliefs in the manner of their conscience and the time and place of their choosing.

We are a nation founded upon and established through law as stated in the Constitution to have the ability and freedom to worship or not to worship as we as individuals see fit. A right established as the first of our rights and whether we are in the halls of Congress, the White House, our State Capitol a public library or the privacy of our own living rooms a right that we as Americans can practice or display freely without fear of persecution or our removal from the place we choose to participate or not participate in this freedom.

Ken Taylor