PART I: Founding Fathers on Church, State & Religion – Not What You Think It Is!


The clergy…believe that any portion of power confided to me [as President] will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion.” (Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Benjamin Rush, 1800).

The following post appeared on The Pink Flamingo’s storage site The Subway Canaries on September 10, 2006.  I have a very real problem with the current Glenn Beck Tea Party version of history.  It is just plain factually incorrect and blind.  As a historian and a card carrying member of the DAR, descended from at least 12 founders, I resent they way they are currently being portrayed.

As a historian, one my very real complaints is the manufacturing of these men into something they are not.  The libertarian “right” is currently as guilty of manipulating the factual accuracy of the founding of this nation as the revisionist left was nearly a from the 1930s – 1970s.  One is as bad as another.

When these great individuals are turned into false gods, made into shining heroes they are denigrated. The men who founded our nation were men of honor. They were also very human.  One of the fallacies of many writers and alleged “thinkers” like Glenn Beck, is the fact that they do no comprehend the fact that men and women never, ever change.  We are the same in our basic human thinking, needs, and desires.

That is what makes our founders so great.

I find that my very real problem with the Glenn Beck, tea party types is the fact that by turning our founders into “gods” they are detracting from their greatness. It was not because these men were such incredible paragons of virtue that made them great, but their feet of clay. They overcame themselves. That is greatness.

As I wrote to a friend, many were devout Christians who believed in opening each day with a prayer, but yet, they were so far sighted, they realized that they could not force their beliefs on others.

In order to understand why this separation of church and state was so important to these educated men, one must be able to have the intellect necessary to comprehend the fact that many settlers of this country came here to escape religious persecution, only to become persecutors themselves.  Most of New England was a mess of religious domination and damnation.  If you do not understand how badly my Puritan ancestors (who were actually quite modern in their thinking) persecuted anyone who did not agree with their version of religion, then you are not capable of understanding why our founders were so adamant against turning this country into a theocracy.

“…Mr. President

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


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. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.] 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.

(signed) Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson once wrote:

In every country and every age, the priest  had been hostile to Liberty.”

James Madison:

The purpose of the Constitution is to restrict the majority’s ability to harm a minority.” Federalist #10

The purpose of the Separation of Church and State is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.” James Madison, 1803.

Then, I found this quote from Jefferson dated 1802.  President Jefferson wrote a letter to a group of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut, in which he declared that it was the purpose of the First Amendment to build

a wall of separation between Church and State, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, 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 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.

And yet another Madison quote,

Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history

By now there should be no miss-understanding that Madison, the author of the First Amendment wanted church and state totally and completely separate.  No Judge Moore’s Ten Commandments on the Alabama Supreme Court.  No Nativity in courthouse lawn.

Madison goes on,

The number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the state

I think the final nail in the church/state coffin comes from the greatest American ever, who was as devout a Christian as any American leader, ever.  –

The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion”  George Washington

Want another zinger, try this one from Jefferson.  on 1814-FEB-10:

Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.

I’ve spent the past 10 days thinking about the first sentence.  It is so complicated. For the Christian and religious activist, it is so very simple, yet so very –  damning (for want of another word). If Madison, the principle author of the Bill of Rights – then we must pay close attention to Amendment I:

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 the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.   Accordingly, this Amendment comes directly from the a bill written by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) in 1777 and proposed to the Virginia Legislature in 1779.

”SECTION I. Well aware thatthe opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds;that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint;that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone;that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and assuch endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time:   ….”

SECT. II.  WE, the General Assembly of Virginia, do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

SECT. III.  AND though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

According to the First Freedom Center:  (Note  – old link broken)

“America‘s greatest legacy to the world, the guarantee of religious freedom for every citizen, was inspired by the vision of Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and James Madison, and first established by law in Richmond, Va., in 1786. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was pushed through the Virginia legislature by James Madison, who went on to lead the development of the U.S. Constitution, where religious freedom tops the list of rights ensured by the First Amendment. This legislation guarantees every citizen the right of complete religious freedom and separates Church from State…”

PART II will conclude next Sunday