Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Quotes: Jefferson

"Building a wall of separation beween Church and State." ~ Thomas Jefferson

If there is a more well known, more misunderstood, more misquoted, and more hotly disputed quote from our founding fathers, I have not been made aware of its existence.  Since the early nineteen hundreds, the phrasing of this solitary statement has been taken into account for nearly every religious freedom case presented to the Supreme Court.  I marvel, personally, at how quickly everything else he wrote in that letter has been forgotten- Indeed, even the proper phrasing has been replaced with the oft quoted "separation of church and state."
You may be asking yourselves why I would bring a quote with such unique political meaning to the pages of a ministry blog.  Perhaps you found yourself repeating the same quote I opened with, or some variation of it.  Maybe you would prefer that the increasingly sickening world of politics be left out of Christian ministry completely.  Know that I sympathize with these and similar sentiments, but alas- There is a season for all things.
We here at WarriorSoul believe firmly in the Christian's duty to arm oneself with the weapons of spiritual warfare, and to equip the full armor of God.  As you may recall, we have been encouraged to take up the sword of truth, but ironically, truth is the belt of the armor of God- It is what holds on the rest of the armor.  In the Bible, we are told that knowing the truth sets us free.  Hard truth is truth nonetheless, and we must be prepared to know it no matter where it comes from.
Having laid this foundation, it is time to reveal the truth of religious freedom in the United States, from the standpoint of Thomas Jefferson.

In October of 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association wrote a letter to President Jefferson congratulating him on his first year in office.  In the letter, they also outline a growing concern of theirs- A concern mirrored in our modern society, though not as eloquently. (The hysteria over the Chick-Fil-A veep's comments are just a small example.)  They wrote:
"...That religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man that works ill of his neighbor.  But sir, our Constitution of our government is not specific.  ...Religion is considered as the first object of legislation, and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inaliable rights.  And these favors we receive at expense of such degrading acknowledgements, as are inconsistant with the rights of freemen.  ...If those who seek after power and gain, under the pretense of government and religion, should reproach their fellow men ...as an enemy of religion, law, and good order ...he will not, dares not, assume the perrogative of Jehovah and make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ."
In other words, the men and women of the Danbury Baptist Association were concerned that the government may look upon religion's free exercise as a favor granted by the ruling body, and in the excuse of it being for the good of both government and religion, create laws restricting the free practice of it.  They were foreseeing the events of our modern age, where public prayer now requires a permit; where ministers cannot preach on the street without express permission; and where every day Christians many times cannot witness because it is "disruptive."  Today, there are even calls to remove any sort of Christian belief from the governing body, meaning that Christians would no longer be allowed to serve in public office.

The draft of Jefferson's letter
to the DBA. Click for full size.
Friends, Jefferson is quoted regularly now as having said that there is a separation of church and state, as if to affirm the encroachments upon religious freedom that are seen today.  This is not so, and could not be further from the case.  He writes back in January of 1802:
"...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."

Jefferson believed that religion and its free exercise was beyond the reach of the federal government, and from other letters we see that he believed any attempt to control that practice was akin to treason.  For folks to use an erroneous quote in defense of the erosion of religious liberty; or to suggest men and women of faith cannot serve as public servants; these are an affront to everything Jefferson stood for.  Where we read "respecting an establishment of religion," Jefferson clearly saw that no law could be formed with respect to religion, because religious practice was not beneath the rule of government.  This is a far cry from today's twisted and perverted understanding, which would seek to destroy businesses, schools, churches and lives over speech covered by the First Amendment, but which is deemed "offensive" or "inconvenient" by the whiners and criers of society.

Now you know the truth.  Defend it.

(Author's Note: There is an excellent article written about the letter to the DBA that can be found here.)

(Note To The Reader:  Andrew is currently working on a project regarding the proper understanding of the religion clause of the First Amendment.  Upon completion, it will be offered on Amazon for Kindle, and possibly also in hard copy form as well.  We will keep you updated on the progress of this work.  In the meantime, we hope you got something from this foretaste.  God bless you all!)

1 comment:

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