Separation of Church and State — Worshipping at the Government Altar of Civil Religion

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.

First AmendmentWhat 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."Thomas Jefferson

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.

* The English Civil War (1642-1649) was a dark chapter in the history of Great Britain and a lesson on the evils of war, particularly when religion is involved. Reading a book on the history of Scotland, I learned that although the English Puritans and the Scottish Presbyterians favored a Protestant theocracy and followed the stern sobriety of Calvinism, they differed in their outlook and politics during the English Civil War in that the Scotts were influenced by the charitable teachings of the New Testament, whereas the Puritans continued to emphasized by the austerity of the Old Testament. It was the English parliament of Puritans, Roundheads, and Oliver Cromwell that condemned and executed the Stuart king Charles I (r. 1625-1649).

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

This editorial was published in The Macon Telegraph on April 22, 2012. A longer and more illustrated version of this article is also available.

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. Separation of Church and State — Worshipping at the Government Altar of Civil Religion.  The Macon Telegraph. April 22, 2012. Available from:

Copyright ©2012 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., MD

Your rating: None Average: 5 (5 votes)
Comments on this post

Good day!

The influence of religion 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 liberty, all in the name of combating lawlessness and crime.

Great articles!

When I was in school I didn't have as much access to information of this kind. The essays are informative. I will be sure to tell my friends Columbia S.C. to take a look. This site has been bookmarked as a resource of history, science and politics with a conservative philosophic touch!

Bobby Dylan - I've Heard of HIm

That must've been those years I lost from my memory but perhaps I was overseas, but yes I do remember the name and I like a couple of his songs including this one:
Blowing in the Wind You know where I came from and I do like some other music other than Country but not much. I like Lynard Skynard's bunch and Alabama was great for a few years but even I don't consider Alabama as one of my alltime favorites. I even like a guy named Eric Clapton and he had a couple songs that I really like: Wonderful Tonight and Tears in Heaven: I think another reason I missed a lot of good musicians over the years was many were considered hippies and I never liked them or what they stood for and then a lot of the music got to the point I couldn't understand what they were saying so I said to heck with them LOL. Still to this day my favorite song of all time is by George Jones and I'm sure I've said that here before but it's:
He Stopped Loving her Today by the one and only George Jones> I will leave the music phase with this one which I don't know if you've ever heard before or not but think you may enjoy it, all I ask is look at the number of hits at the bottom of the video when you're listening to the song: I'm A Man of Constant Sorrow by the Soggy Bottom Boys and yes they are from the great state of Kentucky LOL. (For some reason a few folks have listened to this song!)
Well today Mr Paul didn't take his name off the ballots but he decided he's not going to compete in the remainder of the contests essentially I would presume because he's about out of money and maybe recognizes reality. When I say that I know I'm giving him a lotta credit and I know you have respect for him and I do to, to a point. I will end that discussion by saying that if I had a choice between his son and Ron, his son would win LOL. IMO Ron is past his time and although I appreciate someone speaking up about the Constitution not being adhered to I cringe when he talks foreign policy. Should the Fed be audited? I really don't know whether we want to know the answer but on the other hand how do you ignore that fact?
The polls are going to be up and down, just like yesterday Rasmussen had Romney up by 48-44, today Gallup had Obama up by one, so for all practical purposes polls only mean what they ask and to whom they asked the question. Just read where Obama is calling for the repeal of the DOPMA law. Of course he hasn't enforced it anyway so nothing new there. I don't know what Obama will come up with next to divert attention from his record but most assuredly he will come up with something. Lastly, I hope you're right on your thinking that there isn't going to be a revolution but as I said on, I think you are being far more optimistic than I am simply because the liberal/socialists are not going to stop or slow down, so how else are we going to get things back under control. Congress surely isn't going to change their ways and four more years of Obama just may be what it takes to put a few more nails in our coffin. I do know there's some great folks in this Country and I just cannot see them sitting around and letting things get much darn worse. Four more years of Obama just may be the trick I assure you sir! And to conclude my love for a few songs this is also one of my top favorites and again, please note how many hits this song has had on youtube"
Unchained Melody"-The Righteous Brothers! I know along here somewhere I have duplicated myself on music but stuff happens LOL. Keep up your great writing and I always enjoy it and remain one of your most devoted admirers! There is afterall a reason, you're called the "bear!"

Great songs!

The Revolution will not be needed, Ben, Romney will win this November, and I hope he has the spine to roll off socialism and get this country back on track. As Barry Goldwater asserted, "We must, and we shall, return to proven ways-- not because they are old, but because they are true."

Great songs, Ben! And thank you for your kindness. I treasure our friendship! MAF

"Remember When!" Alan Jackson

Am surprised that I'm just now getting around to one of my all time favorites, Alan Jackson, from Griffin, Georgia. In modern times (the last 25 years or so he was probably my favorite singer). This is this tune on Youtube " He was really a great one and sorta wonder what happened to him as haven't heard much about him in recent years. If you don't like this song, you don't like Country music as IMO it's absolutely beautiful. And if you're not careful you may get a tear in your eye! He's probably one of my top 5 of all time!
Just got through reading your response to the local professor or whatever and was elated that you so eloquently put him where he belongs. In hillbilly language that means you ate his lunch LOL!
I just added up the delegates from the primaries and it doesn't look like Mitt will get the nomination until May 29th during the Texas primary. That will put him over for sure. I am majorly concerned about a lot of stuff I've heard going on at District and State conventions as far as Paul supporters are concerned and think that's despicable at best. When the primaries are won IMO each candidate should get that number of delegates to support them in Tampa but the Paul supporters are doing everything they can to make life difficult at the local level as far as electing the delegates in every manner and fashion possible and I know that's happened right here in my town based on feedback from reliable sources. In some cases they are contesting the entire meetings and trying to take over the District and State meetings! I don't know where this idea originated but without a doubt Paul knows about it and if so, he needs to either stop it or that totally means he condones it. The latter is applicable IMO. I do not consider myself a novice when it comes to politics because I've been involved all my life at varions levels in several different capacities, but Ron Paul in my eyes has always been a sneaky type person (snake in the grass or whatever) but he's been in Congress for over 22 years and hasn't any substantial bills that I can remember. He has some great ideas that I could live with but contrarily he comes up with all kinds of off the wall BS that no one today would consider even sane. Something about him just ain't right as far as I'm concerned and some folks on today were saying he's trying to put himself in a position to help Rand get on the ticket and IMO Rand would probably be better of without his Dad's help LMAO. Each day I start getting more and more nervous about the upcoming election, by Nov I'll be a nervous wreck! But I know where I'll be on Nov 6th! This will be without a doubt the most important election in our lifetime and in the history of this Country! And yes, shortly before that day I'm sure I'll say a prayer for our Country!

Ben I do like that song. It

Ben I do like that song. It reminds me so much of my childhood and how simple and innocent life was!

I agree with you on Ron Paul. I find something about him most problematic for me and the only thing I can say if asked what I believe it to be;I'd have to say . I don't trust him either.

And Do I believe Romney is the most conservative person the RNC could find? NO, but I would find it hard to believe he could possibly be as socialist minded as the current Administration with the help of George Soros;killer of nations.I am hoping Romney has seen by the chain of events that a socialist nation would be the Death of America.

We're still a long way from cleaning up all Obama has destroyed or tried to destroy. One thing it'll take a long time just to get race relations back WNL(Within normal limits) along with Class Envy.

Country music!

"Remember When " and Elvis' last Song performed on stage, I must say they are great tunes and videos, Ben, even if I have not been a country music fan all these years. And I agree about Willie Nelson. Since he is a partisan Democrat, with him, I would have to go back to rock, e.g., Three Doors Down or Pink Floyd, or classical music, ha, ha ha, and thanks for your instructive posts!

Oh and you never told me if you like Bob Dylan (a hero of mine) and B. B. King! Listen and watch:


A Commentary, "Should there be a shotgun marriage?" was also posted on the MT 4/24/12 in reply to my essay:

"When I saw the title of Dr. Miguel A. Faria Jr.’s “Separation of church and state: Worshiping at the government altar of civil religion” printed in Sunday’s Telegraph I began to read with enthusiasm. I attended a Mennonite College in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where the term “civil religion” was code for the religious-like loyalties that many Americans feel for the link they imagine exists between the Constitution and Christianity. I was quickly disappointed, however, when I realized that this was another tired piece of propaganda that connects the ban on administration-sponsored school prayer with a decline in morality.

"Faria makes the completely unfounded statement that '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.' There is no evidence whatsoever that an absence of state-sponsored religious activity of any kind is linked to problems in school or society.

"The author goes on to make the outrageous claim that '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,' cleverly connecting atheism and social welfare. Perhaps he should read the Gospels again to see Jesus’ attitude regarding the poor..."

Patrick Pritchard is the alumnae chair of dducation [sic] and director of the Wesleyan Center for Educational Renewal in Macon.

I respond here, although my original essay actually addressed preemptively most of his criticisms:

In reply to Mr. Patrick Pritchard's column of 4/25/12 in response to my article, "Separation of church and state– Worshipping at the government altar of civil religion," I must say that I am surprised that an official in charge of an Educational Renewal Program in a local college is so distraught about an article with a different viewpoint from the usual "separation of church and state" mantra we hear about constantly, especially when the article is supported not by political wrangle or legal arguments– but historical facts.

Contrary to what he asserted, I have no religious agenda and anyone carefully reading both articles will find that his assertions are convoluted distortions, obfuscations, about what I wrote and pure nonsense, inflamed by his own (and the same) secularist zeal and intolerance that pervades academia.

Mr. Pritchard follows the old tired pattern of many academicians wanting to hear nothing but the politically correct, filtered, managed truths, that we get repeatedly, day in and day out, in the press and in academia.

Yes, in the zeitgeist of our times, we have more to fear from the usurpations of freedom by an insatiable, ever-expanding, socialist, omnipotent government than by the establishment of a priestly Christian theocracy.

Once again, let me say that it is the beauty of this nation that not only do we have freedom of religion but we all also have the right to have opinions, whether informed or not, and we have the right to believe whatever we want to believe — sometimes observations, historical facts, and reality (staring us in the face) notwithstanding. MAF

Published on July 11, 2016, the lyrics to The Doves song "Pulse" remind us: “…the steady drumbeat of your “Pulse” — thump, thump, thump — is all that stands between you and eternity.”