Where or where is that famous phrase we all know by heart "Separation of Church and State" found in our founding documents? Surely it is in the Constitution, within the Bill of Rights, isn't it? We are told it is in the 1st Amendment, is it really there?
"Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion or
prohibit the free exercise there of."
It never says anything about separation of church and state.
Just where did the "separation of church and state" begin? How did it become
part of our national vernacular?
In 1801 the Danbury Baptist Association of Danbury Connecticut heard a
rumor that the Congregational Denomination was about to be made the National
Denomination and it worried them greatly. It was only a rumor, but they
wrote to brand new President, Thomas Jefferson. He wrote them back on
January 1st 1802 and said:
"The First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between Church and
State. They need not fear a National Denomination."
We never hear Jefferson's words in context or intent anymore. Here is that letter, you can see it for yourself in the Jefferson room upstairs in the Library of Congress.
Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists
The Final Letter, as Sent
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. 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.
Jan. 1. 1802.
Then how did we come to believe it is in the Constitution?
In 1958 the Supreme Court discussed their interpretation of the Separation of Church and State.
1958 Baer v Kolmorger
"Continuing to talk about the separation of church and state will make
people think that it was part of the Constitution."
This constant refrain has caused us to add it to our National vernacular.
Consider the warning of Dr. William James;
"There is nothing so absurd but that you repeat it often enough people will
believe it true."
Today, if you ask most Americans if Separation of Church and State is in our Constitution, and I will bet you that 90% will say that it is. It is not now, nor has it ever been. The only place it was ever mentioned was in that private letter to the Danbury Baptists telling them that the State would never force them to follow a national prescribed religious sect.
The facts are there is no Constitutional mandate for a separation of church and state. There is a mandate to protect the church from being imposed on by the State. There is a mandate to protect people of faith from being oppressed in any forum private or public by the State.