Founder of Stand Strong Ministries and Summit faculty member Jason Jimenez brings to light some fascinating historical insight to the discussion surrounding the separation of church and state in a recent article on his website. He shows that the phrase “separation of church and state” actually first came from Christians who were concerned that the government would become overly involved in their business. The point here was to protect the church from the influence and pressure of the state, not to protect the state from the influence of the church. Jefferson was most certainly aware of this, but nonetheless he is frequently cited to justify the suppression of religious influences in the name of separation of church and state.
When the historical context is brought to our attention, the meaning of the First Amendment and the beliefs of Jefferson become quite clear. They both expressly prohibit the establishment of a state or national religion. Additionally, they both prohibit laws that will hinder the free exercise of religion. On the inside of the Jefferson Memorial there is a quote of his that coincides with the First Amendment quite nicely:
Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.
In short: no one will be forced to support any one religion, but everyone is free to discuss their beliefs as they wish. So, while established churches are prohibited, religious discussion and influence most certainly are not. In fact, on the other side of the Jefferson Memorial we find that Jefferson considered theology to be foundational to the purpose of government and infrastructure of society:
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, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted by men… God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?
Unfortunately, the conviction that liberties come from God has indeed been removed by many of the people who run our country, and the loss of liberty is quite evident. This can be seen in an interchange between Senator Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, a nominee for the position of Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Not only does Senator Sanders violate Article Six of the U.S. Constitution when he uses a religious test as a qualifier for office, he also clearly misunderstands the meaning of our Founding Fathers and documents. Ironically, if his own logic were applied to himself – where anyone who condemns the religious beliefs of others should be disqualified from public office – Sanders would have to be disqualified from holding office as well for condemning the views of Russell Vought. The fact that such an influential political figure raises a concern like this shows how far our country has drifted from its founding principles.
We must understand that our right to freely proclaim and defend our religious beliefs is not only consistent with the beliefs of Thomas Jefferson, but it is also protected by the First Amendment. Once we grasp that, we must remind this nation where our rights and value come from. If we don’t, we may continue to lose our freedoms in similar fashion to Russell Vought, just as Jefferson was afraid of.
“Based on the examination of the origin and historical meaning of the separation doctrine, it’s obvious that it has always been the government who has jumped the “wall of separation” and not the Church. But because of the mishandling of our Founders’ religious (mainly Christian) viewpoints, particularly those of Jefferson, and robbing government of its proper role to protect religion in public life, secularism has altered the course of American history. As a result, secularism has been widely successful in removing God, redefining truth, and is well on its way to replacing Christianity.”
Do not be afraid to proclaim and defend your faith in Jesus boldly and winsomely through your words and your actions. That is your right, and it is crucial to the prosperity of our nation.