Separation of Church and State

Jefferson’s Danbury Letter and the Separation of Church and State

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A fine video by Professor John Eastman for Praeger University demonstrating how Church State relations today in the United States bears almost no relationship to that envisioned by the Founding Fathers.  The vehicle of this misapprehension has been Thomas Jefferson’ s letter to  a congregation of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut.  Here is the text of that letter:

To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins,  & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association  in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which  you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist  association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful  and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion  as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them  becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies  solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for  his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach  actions only, & not opinions, 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. 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.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection &  blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves  & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson           Jan. 1. 1802.

It would have astounded Jefferson if he could have foreseen that the Supreme Court would make his letter the cornerstone of erecting a wall of separation between Church and State.  Jefferson did not intend to have the letter be a centerpiece of Constitutional theory, but rather it was a partisan attempt by his to refute Federalist arguments that he was an infidel.  In a brilliant essay, which may be read here, James Hutson, Chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, explains the historical background of the letter: Continue reading

Supreme Court Justices in Church? We Can’t Have That

At the Bench Memos blog at National Review, Mathew Franck linked to a rather hysterical screed written by Marie Griffith. The object of Griffith’s scorn: the annual Red Mass that takes place at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, DC before the opening of the Supreme Court term. Griffith is not at all pleased that two-thirds of the Supreme Court attended the latest Red Mass a couple of weeks ago.

Last Sunday, September 30, witnessed one of the most vivid and, to many (emphasis mine), disturbing examples of this religion/politics paradox.

Right out of the gate we get some good old-fashioned intellectual dishonesty. Who are the “many” that are disturbed by this visual? I would wager that the overwhelming majority of people have no idea that this Mass even exists, and that a scant few who are aware of its existence are very bothered by it. Rather than taking ownership of an opinion and writing that she is offended by the Red Mass, Griffith assigns a feeling to a mythical many. It’s a passive aggressive trick employed when a writer either lacks the guts to openly state their feelings, or when they want to conjure up support for an opinion that is not wildly shared by actual open beings.

She continues: Continue reading

Catholic Political Thought & John Locke: Part I

by Joe Hargrave

It is becoming fashionable in the now and unfortunately familiar leftist-traditionalist alliance to gang up on the political ideas of John Locke as the source and origin of all that is anti-Catholic in Anglo-American politics. Articles in the Distributist Review, books by certain prolific authors, and blog posts appearing on certain sites, all have produced the equivalent of a picture of Locke with devil horns and perhaps a long, thin moustache to twirl while he’s tying hapless girls to the railroad tracks. There’s certainly no denying that Locke was himself opposed to what he thought Catholicism was. But sometimes, even the enemies of the Church are sharing her premises in spite of themselves.

Continue reading

Constitutional Ignorance

I see that my co-blogger MJ Andrew has already posted about the Christine O’Donnell-Chris Coons debate, and I thank him as that saves me the trouble of having to sort through a whole bunch of links.

I disagree with him, though somewhat reservedly.  Having listened to the entire clip it does seem to me that O’Donnell is questioning whether the concept of the separation of Church and State is in the First Amendment, not the Establishment Clause.  There was some crosstalk at this point in the debate, and it appears to me that she’s just repeating her question with regards to the issue of separation.  It’s debatable, though, and a candidate should do a better job clearly establishing what she’s talking about in such a setting.

That being the case,  I was more intrigued by  Coons’s own response to the question.  While O’Donnell possibly made a gaffe – an unfortunate one if indeed it was a gaffe – Coons’s response is the more troubling aspect of this exchange. Continue reading

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