by: Rev. Ed Schneider
Religion in America and Christianity in particular seems to have found itself in a rather uncomfortable position within a significant percentage of our society. Just the other day a high school student was awarded an early acknowledgment of being the valedictorian at this coming year’s closing graduation ceremonies found herself in an odd predicament. As she was delivering her first draft to the principal and her honors English teacher for their initial review of the general course of her future speech she was met with a shocking response by both educators concerning a small portion of her address.
What was the negative attention directed toward? Twice during the test of her speech she referenced her faith and her experiences at her church as part of her motivator factor for self-discipline and the “faith” to see things through…even when it seemed overwhelming. She made a very quick reference to two Godly principles relating too “counting the costs of each journey in life before committing to its process” and “serving something greater than yourself” being far more beneficial to any life. Of her 18 minute speech only 2-3 minutes consumed these two references and yet they were deemed “inappropriate” because of their “Christian/bibical” context.
Beloved, it wasn’t that long ago that Ohio’s 1st District Court of Appeals overturned Judge Melba Marsh’s conviction of a convicted serial child rapist because she had the nerve to reference Matthew 18:5-6, where it reads;
“And whosoever shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
The rationale for the Appellate Courts decision was a completely historically ignorant understanding of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
The First Amendment reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Here is an interesting question to ponder. Do you see written anywhere the phrase; “separation of church and state?” The answer is of course, NO! Yet somewhere in America’s collective conscience there has obviously been implanted that unfortunate understanding.
Now, I want to make it clear that I am not say the US Government needs to be in the business, either overtly or covertly, of establishing or even influencing a religious directive. I am not. I understand and actually appreciate America’s commitment to a generically pluralistic societal environment and the protection that come with that stance. However, millions of people claim to be connected to “God” in some form and millions of people quite specifically associate that belief within a Christian context. Even though this is a fact, the institutional church has a horrible tendency of presenting an equally ignorant view of the First Amendment in the daily course of their existence.
On rare occasions in our history, especially in times of great tragedy, national disaster, or degrading social justice issues…even horrendous economic challenges….the institutional church has not only been impressive in their leadership but was also readily accepted and appreciated by the general public and the “people’s government.”
Given these preceding assumptions, we need not to be afraid of admitting that a significant segment of the NON-believing “secular/humanist” society finds much of the religious systems of faith (Christianity and others) to be sophomoric superstition, insulting to their prideful intellects, and openly intrusive to their lives. Because the reality of both the NON-believing and the foundationally “faith driven” communities positions of the greater aspects of human life experience, they are at open warfare concerning the hearts, minds, and souls of tens of millions of people stuck in the middle of these two competing worldviews.
One side is framing their argument on a severely flawed legal argument of “separation of church and state” while the other side wants to hide its collective heads in the sand so it doesn’t have to deal with the hard questions of their past and their potential future. Truthfully, both sides have plenty to apologize for toward the American populace and the unfortunate reality is both sides are so entrenched in their worldviews they are not likely to amend their thinking any time soon.
By and large, the American populace, regardless of socio-economic or other cultural distinctions, continues to prove daily that we are some of the most historically ignorant people on the planet.
The words “separation of church and state” simply do not exist in any of the founding United States government documents. In fact, these words were brought into the public conscience just a little more than 6 decades ago in a Supreme Court decision (Everson v. Board of Education), where the justices referred to the phrase….separation of church and state.
The source of this phrase was taken from a letter written in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut. The Baptist of Connecticut objected to the “official” State of Connecticut’s choice of the Congregational Church being its primary identifier of “the State’s” religion. At the time the Danbury Baptist Association was seeking President Jefferson’s assistance and possible intervention in the matter. At the time of their grievance many…I repeat…MANY…states within the union had designated “official” state churches, or denominational identities. This was true even past this circumstance up until 1833.
Why was this allowed to happen? Because the Constitution’s Bill of Rights ONLY FORBID THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A FEDERAL EDICT on the establishment of an official and singular church identity. The states themselves were free to take on this freedom. Why? Because the First Amendment plainly states that the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT has no right to infringe on the express of religious freedoms.
Let’s get back to the Jefferson letter that responded to the Danbury Baptists. Remember, the “founding fathers” on America NEVER INTENDED that public worship of God would be eliminated; on the contrary, they literally encouraged the freedom to participate in worship…both publicly and privately. That Jeffersonian philosophy was the actual point in fact which produced the phrase; “separation of church and state.”
Here is the actual quote from that letter Jefferson wrote the Danbury Baptists.
I contend with sovereign reverence (Jefferson refers to the ultimate respect of God) that the act of the whole American people which declared that their (federal) 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.
In the Journal of Church and State, American University professor, Daniel Driesbach, says that Jefferson’s “wall” had “less to do with the separation of church and civil government than with the separation between state and federal governments.”
What is truly most humorous to me is the very document the Supreme Court referred to was written by Thomas Jefferson, who with his good friend, John Adams, acknowledged a man named, Roger Williams as the “founder” and “originator” of the concepts and principles that are reflected within the First Amendment.
Why is this so amusing to me? Simple.
Roger Williams was a Christian preacher and founder of what became the State of Rhode Island. Roger Williams firmly believed in the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of public assembly. In much of William’s writings he had constant references to both freedom of religion, the battle against uniformity of faith expressions, and the imposition of an individual state to institute a formal denominational preference upon its residents.
One of Roger William’s famous quotes on this understanding is as follows.
God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.”
He also said,
…an enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”
Beloved, the First Amendment was originally intended to halt the Federal government from establishing a “state” religion. However, it was never intended AT ALL to hinder public religious activities, as these two items are not the same thing!
Anyone who argues these historical observations probably ought to read more…at least…or honestly reflect at their own underlying intentions. Peace.