Recent Macon Telegraph articles and Letters to the Editor continue to discuss "separation of church and state," but frankly, many of them miss the mark. Our Founding Fathers, even Thomas Jefferson, meant something completely different in the "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution than what liberal pundits are leading us to believe.
First, the phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the U.S. Constitution or any of our founding documents, but only in the fecundity of memoranda of ACLU lawyers and court rulings of activist judges.
What the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says is "Congress should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”; it does not proscribe religion from political life. The Founders were very aware that Judeo-Christian religion supports the moral code and ordered liberty. The Founders knew the value of religion upon morality and society and guaranteed religious freedom as one of the first of the Natural and Constitutional rights enshrined in the First Amendment.
And because of the banishment of religion from public life, particularly in our schools, the chickens of unrestrained violence, immorality, and decadence have come home to roost.
By jettisoning the Judeo-Christian principles upon which this nation was founded, coupled with the growth of government in our private and public lives, our children have suffered greatly in their personal and academic lives, and they are growing up devoid of a moral compass, discipline, and even a desire to learn and become better citizens. This is reflected in poor academic performance, and increased illegitimacy, illiteracy, and hooliganism.
We worry about children with guns, violence in schools, and street crime. We wonder why we have so much immorality, crime, broken families, etc. This disintegration of the moral foundations of our society has been the result of the loss of religious and moral principles, leading increasingly to a lack of discipline, self-respect, and moral restraints.
School prayer and the Ten Commandments have already been removed from government schools and most public places. Should we also extirpate such phrases as "God Bless America," "In God We Trust," etc., because someone is offended? There is no Constitutional right of protection against being offended. Flag burning, nude dancing and other forms of offensive speech, as distasteful as they may be to many Americans, are permitted. The Supreme Court has even ruled that as offensive as the Westboro Baptist Church funeral protests were, nevertheless, they were protected free speech. And yet, many politicians want to ban religion completely from public life because it is offensive to various sects and political groups.
Our Constitution gives us freedom of worship, not proscription of religion in personal and public life. All ten of the enumerated rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights secure individual liberties and limit the power of government. They do not establish government policy. Why would the "free exercise of religion" clause be any different?
The “separation of church and state,” if we may call it that, really referred to the refusal of the establishment of a state religion. Our Founders correctly rejected not only the formation of a theocracy but also the establishment of an official state religion, as was the case in Great Britain, the nation from which they had just separated.
Our Founders were sons of the Enlightenment and decried an official religion supported by the state to the detriment of other Judeo-Christian denominations. Beginning in the late 1760s through the 1780s, opposition to an official state religion developed in New Jersey, led by Calvinist and Presbyterian leaders like John Witherspoon, Elias Boudinot, and William Livingston.
The Southern Founders, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in Virginia, agreed and were equally and firmly opposed to having the establishment of the Anglican or Episcopalian Church as the state-supported, official religion for the United States. They all strongly concurred in freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.
The phrase "a wall of separation" in church and state affairs is derived from the query made by the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut in 1801, regarding an opinion on the establishment of religion in their state, sent to Thomas Jefferson, the newly elected President of the United States. To this query, Jefferson responded: "…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."
Jefferson’s private opinion is perhaps the strongest among the Founders and has been used repeatedly by activist judges as if the phrase was contained in the U.S. Constitution to ban religion from public life. But this “wall of separation” refers only to the official forbiddance of the establishment of a state religion as enumerated in our U.S. Constitution, and not to a ban on religion in public life or an encroachment on religious liberty.
The Founders were well aware of what state religion meant in Great Britain, where the head of state, the king, was the head of the Church of England; where the monarch appointed bishops; where the House of Lords composed of Temporal Lords (i.e., the nobility) and the Spiritual Lords (i.e., Bishops and Archbishops) ruled as the Upper House; where all citizens including Catholics, Puritans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and other Dissenters, pay taxes for the Church of England, a church to which they did not belong; where Catholics could not even hold public office and were persecuted, including the Irish Catholics in their own country!
Winston Churchill, the great English statesman, orator, historian, and World War II Prime Minister of Great Britain and a great apologist of the Anglican Church wrote that even as far back as the Reformation and the reign of Henry VIII and his bigamous marriage to Anne Boleyn, “the clergy were prohibited from preaching unless licensed, and a Bidding prayer was prescribed for use in all Churches of England…‘Henry VIII being immediately next unto God…’” And Catholics continued to be excluded from holding office and persecuted in Great Britain until the advent of the Catholic emancipation process in the 19th Century and Irish home rule in the 20th Century.
Faith and religion provide an invisible support to the moral code, encourage discipline, and promote civility. Their influence on moral conduct and overt behavior is certain. Without the prop of religion and our churches, crime would certainly increase, and then the state would have the usual reason or excuse, or even pretext, to step in, to pass more laws against the law-abiding citizens, and to suppress more liberties, all in the name of combating lawlessness and crime.
Thus, I find the Judeo-Christian religion beneficial to the survival of Western Civilization and a just bulwark against anarchy on the one hand and the rise of socialism and tyranny on the other.
Most authoritative biographies of the Founding Fathers reveal that in public life these great men displayed orthodox, Christian thinking, and Judeo-Christian ethics. They rejected theocracy, as most of us Americans do, but that is a far cry from what many liberal academicians espouse today — i.e., that religion should have no role in government and that religious people should not be seen or heard!
There is no chance we will establish a theocracy in the U.S., but the opposite is more likely, the establishment of a completely secular, socialist state, where might is right and where government power becomes the civil religion of the state — to the detriment of our remaining freedoms.
Written by Dr. Miguel Faria
Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is the author of Vandals at the Gates of Medicine (1995) and Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise (2002). He resides in Milledgeville, and his website is http://www.haciendapublishing.com.
This editorial was published in The Macon Telegraph on April 22, 2012.
Copyright ©2012 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., MD