This last Monday, I was invited to speak to the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Central Missouri. A wonderful group; lots of questions; not many answers. I am always looking for answers.
The topic of the discussion was Church/State separation, for this is Church and State Separation Week. I didn’t know that either until UCM-SSA invited me to speak.
Yes, much of the discussion revolved around my research for my book, A Christian Nation? I talked about the falsies and the myths concerning the notion of American as a Christian based government. But we also talked about three truths.
That is a fact that cannot be argued. The documents are available through various means to be read, including visuals of the original documents posted at the Library of Congress and the Avalon Project of Yale University.
Most of us know the history behind the two phrases. In responding to a letter from the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association, President Thomas Jefferson wrote,
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, & 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 & State.
Second, the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits the government from preventing our citizens from worshipping as they see fit and prohibits the establishment or support of a national “official” religion. The purpose of this Amendment was to prevent that our Founders saw as a grievous marriage between government and religion.
Third, Article VI, clause 3 of the Constitution prohibits the use of a religious test for anyone to hold public office, whether elected or appointed.
One of the arguments made by the proponents of the marriage between Church and State is the mistaken notion that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and that the Constitution is somehow a one way street, that it only prevents the government from interfering in our citizen’s personal lives; that our faith is our own and the government has no right to change that.
Yet, somehow, these are the same individuals argue that religion has a right to oversee government. This argument may not be true. In fact, there is no evidence that our Founders wanted to include sectarian oversight of secular law.
It does appear that our Founders wanted to avoid any direct or indirect connection between Church and State, temporal and heavenly law. Most evident to this notion are 85 letters written by one advocate for a nationally recognized church and two very devout Anglicans – Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, the authors of the “Federalist Papers.”
The Papers were 85 “letters,” really essays, written to the citizens of New York City, and they say little as it concerns the religiosity of the new nation. Though Christianity is mentioned, it is context of the British Crown. Religion is mentioned but in terms of a comparison with the Greek and Roman democracies. That is it.
Though Hamilton, along with Patrick Henry, would later very unsuccessfully argue for a nationally recognized church, it was Madison who championed Thomas Jeffereson’s Virginia’s Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in the Virginia chambers while Jefferson was in France on behalf of the new government – The Confederation of the United States.
The dagger that seems to be wholly ignored by the proponents of the religious/ government connections within our founding documents is the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, which must be read in conjunction with Article VI, clause 3 of The Constitution.
Clause 3 states, in part, that “…all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land…” The United States Senate is responsible for the congressional approval of any treaty.
With this in mind, the reading of Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli has an absolute meaning, that the “… government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion…
There is one possible argument against Article 11, that the document was voided in 1807. But this is not correct.
Speaking to constitutional law experts (attorneys, academics and scholars), the terminology of the document itself is valid and wholly represents the Founders’ position of Church/State separation. Why?
Mainly because many of those who were signers of the Declaration and/or the Constitution and those who are considered “Founders” by historians were members of the 1797 Senate who ratified the treaty.
Yes, “Separation of Church and State” and “Wall of Separation” are not found in the Constitution of the United States. But the sentiment is clearly stated by those who had a direct hand in the constitutional founding of this great nation.
David’s new book, A Christian Nation? An Examination of Christian nation theories and proofs, is now available in the CreateSpace eStore and Amazon.com. InkandVoice readers can receive a 20% discount at CreateSpace with code 5H3W9SN8.