Separation of Church and State
Some of the darkest days in American history were the Civil War when the country was at the lowest point of division. These were the days when Abraham Lincoln believed that religion was a potential unifying force. Overwhelmingly most American believes in God but a common consensus cannot be achieved with how faith should inform nationhood. America is now more divided than ever over the relationship between religion and government. This deep divide is not primarily over religion belief or affiliation, but rather the role belief should play in the business of politics and government.
The phase "separation of church and state" is generally traced to an 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist. In this letter Jefferson advocated the separation of church and state as an interpretation on the U.S Constitution’s First Amendment. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ." (The Federalist Papers). This statement puts two limitations on government with respect to religion. The first, the establishment clause, prohibits many forms of association between church and state. The second, the free exercise clause, bars the government from limiting the right to hold and express religious beliefs, and engage in almost all religious practices (Volkomer, 2008, p. 276).
So how did the concept of American Church-State separation and religious freedom came about? The ultimate root of this concept can be traced back to the history of the Old World. Anson Stokes and Leo Pfeffer wrote “The roots of American Church-State separation and religious freedom can be found in the history of the Old World (Pfeffer, 1964, p. 3). The thinking of the founding fathers was greatly influenced by Decalogue, which provided the basis of the moral laws of Israel, simplified later in the form of Christianity, the Greek philosophers, the Roman Catholic Empire and its religion, the Catholic Church, its doctrine and practices, and the Renaissance and the Reformation of which Martin Luther and John Calvin were of great influence. Influence also came from a group of seventeenth and eighteenth century European philosophers Charles Louis Montesquieu a believer in a written constitution, Jean Jacques Rousseau theories of popular sovereignty, and Francois Marie de Voltarie who strongly opposed any State Church with exclusive rights and privileges.
On the backdrop of the philosophy of these pioneers John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu had the greatest impact on the U.S. Constitution. Both had written extensively in support of a separation between religion and the state, and their ideas and writings were frequently used to support various positions in the debates about what the Constitution should contain. However the underlining principle to have a First Amendment prohibiting the establishment of religion and protecting the free exercise thereof, are based on principle and politics. The principled reason behind the religious clauses of the First Amendment was to protect the liberty of conscience of religious dissenters and the political reason was that no one opposed the idea of religious liberty.
When the members of the first Congress passed the First Amendment (and sent it to the states for ratification), they voted to prohibit the "establishment" of religion. Since at that time many of the states had an established church, it is assumed that these first congressional representa¬tives intended to prevent a future Congress or president from declaring that only one church could exist in the United States. Over time it was generally accepted that the First Amendment prohibited federal, state, or local governments in the United States from raising tax money for a church, or for a particular group of churches. Eventually the Supreme Court said that the Establishment Clause requires…