By Tim Noris
All have heard the term “Separation of church and state.” In 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court declared there is a “wall of separation” between the religious affairs of the people and the government elected to represent them. Thomas Jefferson first used the term in a letter written in 1802. It was clear from the letter that Jefferson was referring to the Constitution as the wall protecting the people’s religious liberty from an overreaching government:
“It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights; that confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism; free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy, and not confidence, which prescribes limited constitutions to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power; that our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no farther, our confidence may go….In questions of power, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
Notwithstanding Jefferson’s clear intent, The 1947 decision directly led to prayer being outlawed in all public schools beginning in 1963.
It’s interesting to note the founding fathers were anything but neutral on the question of religion as the basis of government and society. From Washington to Adams and even the great liberal of his time, Thomas Jefferson, believed religion provided an “indispensable support” to a civil and just society. Noah Webster went so far as to say “the moral principles and precepts contained in the scriptures ought to form the basis of our civil constitutions and laws.”
While the constitution does not directly refer to God, biblical concepts contained within it presupposed a set of commonly accepted morals, ethics, and standards of behavior drawn directly from the Old and New Testaments. For instance, the system of checks and balances and the separation of powers is derived from the founders’ understanding of the flawed nature of man. (See Genesis 3 and Jeremiah 17:9). The three branches of government are reminiscent of the roles of God as described in Isaiah 33:22. The exception for Sundays in the time limit for the President to sign a bill into law in Article VII, Section 2, hints at the assumption that Sunday was the day of rest as set forth in Exodus 20. Exodus 18 reveals that before Israel demanded that God give them a king, the Hebrews had a representative form of government, similar to the system created in the Constitution. Both Leviticus 19:34 and Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution require uniform treatment of immigrants.
The words “Separation of church and state” do not actually appear in the U.S. Constitution. The sole reference to religion in the Constitution is Article VI, Section 3: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The Bill of Rights was added later to include First Amendment protections, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Perhaps John Adams, our second President said it best… “Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged in conscience to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness and charity towards his fellow man and to piety, love, and reverence toward Almighty God! What a utopia, what a paradise would this region be.”
Tim Norris, a long-time Panhandle resident is past Chairman of the Walton County Republican Party and is the current Republican Party of Florida’s State Committeeman for Walton County. Tim Resides in Santa Rosa Beach with his wife Nancy. The couple have 3 daughters, Calli, Hannah and Piper.
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