The Separation of Church and State — The Founders Views…

I am going to do a couple of posts here on a pretty controversial topic and that is church and State. I just finished three months worth of political posts so I thought I might as well tackle another difficult issue before my blood pressure  finally goes down to normal.

Being a U.S. history buff I have read quite a bit on Jefferson and his views of the separation of church and State. The primary information about this topic comes from his writing called “An Act For Establishing Religious Freedom” written in 1786.  Another writing prominently mentioned in this area is his response to Danbury Baptist Association letter written in 1801 when he was president.

Let’s take a look at some of the words from these letters:

Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatever, nor shall he be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or beliefs….

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.”

One of my heroes James Madison who is widely recognized as the Father of the Constitution said this about church and state:

 “practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government is essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.”

It is quite clear to me that these two great leaders in the separation of church and state had two things in mind. One was that people should not suffer any consequences in civil society because of their religious belief or the lack thereof. The second thing was their fear that some future religious body would attempt to establish itself as the “official” religion of the country.

  • Does this mean that neither the federal nor state governments can give preferences to one religion over another?
  • Does this mean that office holder cannot be required to have certain religious convictions?
  • Does this mean that the state is prevented from requiring religious institutions to believe certain things?

I believe that answer to all three of these questions is yes.

  • Does this mean that the State cannot make laws that are applicable to the church as included in the general population?
  • Does this mean that the church is exempt from paying taxes?
  • Does this mean that personal contributions to the church are automatically tax exempt?

I belive the answer to all three of these questions is no. None of these things are related to the original separation intent.

Religious institutions must abide by U.S. laws like all persons or institutions. The current practice of excluding from taxes money paid to support religious institutions is not by nature something endemic to our constitutional principle of church/state separation.  It is something that can be changed and I believe it should be changed. More on that next time

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