Church and State
“We have staked the whole future of American Civilization,” writes James Madison, chief framer and architect of the U.S. Constitution, “upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” It is widely believed that the idea for three separate branches of the government of the United States of America comes from Isaiah 33:22, which says, “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king.” From a Christian perspective, the Founding Fathers based America's judicial, legislative, and executive branches on this Scripture. Here are a few more little known facts:
Of the fifty-five people drafting the Constitution, fifty-two were Christians.
Of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, twenty-seven had Bible seminary degrees.
Thirty-four percent of documents written between 1760 and 1805 quoted the Bible; no other source was quoted as frequently.
Ninety-four percent of all quotes by the Founding Fathers were based on the Bible.
This kind of devotion to Scripture as the basis for political thought doesn't dominate today's government leaders as it did the Founding Fathers. Instead, today's American government officials and citizens work to build and maintain a separation between church and state.
Just as you did with the Bible, take some time to reference the document at hand, the Constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The words are simple ones, as is their meaning: Congress absolutely cannot establish a national religion. Keep in mind that many of those who first came to America did so because they didn't want to be members of whatever church the current British monarch favored. This amendment was important because the “people feared one sect might obtain a preeminence, or two combine together,” said Madison, “and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform.”
“Wall of Separation”
The phrase “wall of separation,” so often bandied around to justify removing any Christian influence from the government sphere, was first written by Thomas Jefferson in a private letter to the Danbury [Connecticut] Baptist Association dated January 1, 1802. They had heard a rumor that the government was planning to establish the First Congregationalists Church. Jefferson reassured them that no one denomination would be favored over another. He didn't use the phrase in any official document and certainly never intended for the principles of Christianity to be eliminated from government. The “wall” he spoke of was to protect the church from the state, not the state from the church. No historical document proposes the absolute separation of church and state.
Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black took the opportunity to rewrite the First Amendment in Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township in 1947. He stated that the “First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.” ACLU lawyer Leo Pheffer wrote the decision, which promoted the so-called separation of church and state. No precedents are included in the decision, though the Supreme Court had previously declared America as a Christian nation. The first declaration, Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, was in 1892. The second was United States v. Macintosh in 1931.
“Safeguarding the Free Exercise”
The second phrase of the First Amendment forbids the government interfering with a citizen's freedom to worship as he pleases. Nothing in the First Amendment says that Christians aren't allowed to participate in politics or that they have to check their religious views on the way out of the church-building door.
So which is it? Does the First Amendment guarantee that Americans are free from Christianity or does it guarantee freedom of religion? Alabama judge Roy Moore believes so strongly that it's the latter that he defied a federal order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments, which weighed 5,300 pounds, from his state courthouse. His belief and defiance cost him his job even though Moses is shown, with his famous Ten Commandments, on federal buildings, including a frieze on the Supreme Court building itself.
Writing for the majority in the case of United States v. Ballard in 1944, Justice Douglas writes about the dual aspect of the First Amendment. He says that the amendment not only “forestalls compulsion by law of the acceptance of any creed or the practice of any form of worship,” but also “safeguards the free exercise of the chosen form of religion.”
The Constitution's Tenth Amendment says that the powers that aren't given to the federal government in the Constitution belong to the states. Since, by virtue of the First Amendment, the federal government can't make laws regarding the establishment of religion, what federal laws did Moore break? Did the federal government violate the right of the state of Alabama to make its own decision about the monument? If religious liberty is slowly being eroded away, as many Christians fear, then more is at stake here than a complex legal question and a block of stone.
The Supreme Court Decisions of June 27, 2005
On June 27, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that displaying the Ten Commandments inside courthouses violates the dogma of separation of church and state (the Kentucky ruling of McCreary County v. ACLU, No. 03–1693), but also ruled that the Ten Commandments could be displayed on government land (the Texas ruling of Van Orden v. Perry, No. 03–1500).
Chief Justice Rehnquist said, “Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause.” Justice Scalia stated that a “dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority” denied the Ten Commandments’ religious meaning. He stated, “Nothing stands behind this court's assertion that governmental affirmation of the society's belief in God is unconstitutional except in the court's own say-so.”