September 19, 2019
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Lathan Watts – Jefferson’s Separation of Church and State


You’ve probably heard it many times: Someone
wagging a finger and going on about the “separation of church and state.” But if Thomas Jefferson were listening in
on that conversation, he would definitely have something to say about how his words
were being used – and abused. Hi, I’m Lathan Watts, Director of Community
Relations for First Liberty Institute. There can be no better way to celebrate one
of America’s greatest statesmen than by reclaiming his legacy for religious liberty
and living as boldly as he did in freedom’s defense. It is sadly ironic that a few select words
of Jefferson — the “wall of separation between church and state”— have been abused
and distorted today by those seeking to dismantle the foundations of our republic. Those words appeared in Jefferson’s now
infamous letter to the Danbury Baptists, a religious group in Connecticut concerned with
its state government’s weak religious liberty protections. Shortly following his election to the presidency
in 1802, Jefferson wrote: Believing with you that religion is a matter
which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his
faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and
not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people
which declared that their legislature would ‘make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation
between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme
will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction
the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights,
convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. “Thus building a wall of separation between
church and state” is arguably the most abused phrase in American history. A parade of anti-faith groups have used this
phrase as a call to arms in a never-ending courtroom assault. Consider these cases, just a few of the hundreds
of legal matters First Liberty Institute engages in each year. Two county commissioners — one in Jackson
County, Michigan, the other in Rowan County, North Carolina — regularly open their sessions
with an invocation led by one of the commissioners. In 2013, an individual activist and the ACLU,
respectively, sued the commissioners for supposedly violating the separation of church and state. But as president, Jefferson not only signed
bills which appropriated financial support for chaplains in Congress and the military,
but he himself attended church services held on the floor of the House of United States
Representatives at the U.S. Capitol. Toni Richardson is an educational technician
who works with students with special needs at a public high school in Augusta, Maine. In a conversation at school, she told a co-worker
and fellow church member, “I’ll pray for you.” Her employer, citing the “separation of
church and state,” threatened her with disciplinary action up to termination if she continued
using such “unprofessional language.” What would Jefferson think? As president, Jefferson also served as the
chairman of the school board for the District of Columbia. There he authored the first plan of education
adopted by the city. His plan used the Bible and Isaac Watts’
hymnal as the key books for teaching reading in their schools Oscar Rodriguez is a decorated Air Force veteran. While giving a patriotic flag-folding speech
at a retirement ceremony for fellow airman Chuck Roberson, uniformed airmen assaulted
and physically removed Rodriguez from the room because he dared to mention the word
“God” in his speech. What was Jefferson’s approach to the role
of religion in the military? In addition to the bills he signed appropriating
funds for chaplains in the military, he also signed the Articles of War on April 10, 1806,
in which he “earnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers, diligently to attend
divine services.” In perhaps his most famous written work, the
Declaration of Independence, Jefferson exemplified his deep commitment to the divine origin of
the rights of each individual in the famous line, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” In essence, America’s “birth certificate,”
as penned by Jefferson, declares that God exists, and his existence forms the basis
for all personal, political, and economic rights. Those who seek to hijack the phrase “separation
of church and state” to impose secular humanism on our political life can only do so by willfully
turning a blind eye to the volumes of Jefferson’s other writings, as well as his own actions
as president. Those actions speak louder than any words. Jefferson’s victories for religious freedom
are our cherished heritage, and his fight for liberty is now our fight. Now is a time for all Americans—religious
or not—to stand for our first freedom as the bedrock upon which all liberty stands. No better inspiration can be found than Jefferson’s
own personal seal, which read, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” Those who stand courageously against oppression
can do so secure in the knowledge that the author of the Declaration of Independence
— and more importantly, the Author of our liberty itself — are not neutral in the
contest.

Otis Rodgers

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1 COMMENTS

  1. BlasterMaster80 Posted on April 28, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    If Christians only understood that the separation of church and state protects them and their specific type of religion as well.

    Reply
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