On October 7, 1801, the Danbury Baptists Association wrote a letter to President Thomas Jefferson in which they sought assurance that the Constitution included a provision protecting religious freedoms for all. Their concern was no doubt predicated on memories of the oppressive rule of "the king's religion," and they wanted to make certain that the new charter they were now living under would never permit a state church to again intrude into the sanctity of an individual's personal relationship with God.
Jefferson responded in a letter written January 1, 1802, that the Constitution did indeed guarantee all Americans protection from any possibility of the government encroaching in any way upon their personal religious liberties. He went on to illustrate that point by using the metaphor of a "wall of separation" built by the first amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting our legislators from ever passing a law that imposed a particular religion on American citizens, or that would in any way, hinder their liberty to freely practice their own faith.
Note carefully the context in which Jefferson's "wall of separation" is used: He is assuring the Association that the wall was there to separate secular power from religion, forestalling a state church such as the church of England, and to prevent intrusion into the spiritual life of citizens by the government. Not one word in the text of his letter implies a restriction on the free exercise of religion in either the public square or a governmental setting.
To interpret Jefferson's words as a mandate for restricting faith to a church building or private home is to distort his purpose. Yet that is precisely what the US Supreme Court did in 1947, in the Everson v Board of Education ruling. Those who essentially sought to ban God's influence from society were able to convince the Supreme Court Justices that this was the actual intent of the first amendment. And they did so by successfully twisting the words in a private lette
r written by Thomas Jefferson! Yet, the first amendment's true intent should be obvious to any unbiased reader, given Jefferson's intent of allaying concerns about intrusion by the federal government.
"Congress shall make no law concerning the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Simple, right? Congress will make no law establishing a religion, nor a law that restricts a a person's right to freely practice his personal faith. No caveats or conditions are implied regarding limitations in such pursuits. And the intent embodied in the amendment is clear: to protect religion from the government--not to keep religion from the public square. A cursory study of the prominence place that religion and spirituality held in American society in the early years of the new republic testifies to that truth--a time when Ministers freely preached in public places and held services, without restriction or opposition.
The US Capitol was originally used as a church (which continued until well after the Civil War), in which prominent statesmen such as Jefferson and John Adams attended services regulary. The Continental Congress allocated money to purchase Bibles even during the Revolutionary War, when money was tight. Meetings of Congress always opened with prayer, and George Washington began the tradition of taking the Presidential oath of office on the Holy Bible. Does it really sound like a wall isolating religion from society was erected by the founding fathers?
Every time US citizens are forbidden to pray, read the Bible, or talk about God or Jesus anywhere in the USA, that is tantamount to "prohibiting the free exercise thereof," and is a blatant violation of the first amendment. According to the first amendment, we should be able to express our faith in any public setting or government facility; have a Nativity Scene or cross at any public location, as long as the majority of people in that community want it there; invoke the name of Jesus Christ, pray during a graduation ceremony, and even hold a church service on a street corner, as long as civil ordinances are observed. Why can we not do so? Because the Supreme Court was convinced by a handful of God-haters that prohibition of public worship was the first amendment's actual intent.
Oh, how far the institution of America's highest court has fallen. In 1892, the Supreme Court actually ruled in favor of a Church--based on the view of the Court that the US is a Christian nation! (Church of the Holy Trinity v. U. S., 143 U. S. 457, 465, 470-471 (1892). Moreover, many prominent Americans, including a number of Supreme Court Justices, expressed that very conviction, even before that 1892 ruling:
"Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. In this sense and to this extent, our civilizations and our institutions are emphatically Christian."
--Richmond v. Moore, Illinois Supreme Court, 1883) 
"For many years, my hope for the perpetuity of our institutions has rested upon Bible morality and the general dissemination of Christian principles. This is an element which did not exist in the ancient republics. It is a basis on which free governments may be maintained through all time. . . . Free government is not a self-moving machine. . . . Our mission of freedom is not carried out by brute force, by canon law, or any other law except the moral law and those Christian principles which are found in the Scriptures."
--Supreme Court Justice John McLean (1785-1861) 
"[W]ith us, Christianity and religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people our institutions did not presuppose Christianity and did not often refer to it and exhibit relations with it."
--Supreme Court Justice John Marshall (1801-1835) 
"One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is that Christianity is a part of the Common Law. . . . There never has been a period in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying at its foundations. . . . I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society."
--Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845) 
Even after the Everson v Board of Education ruling, at least one Supreme Court Chief Justice, Earl Warren, still believed our foundation rested on the Bible and Christianity:
"I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it: freedom of belief, of expression, of assembly, of petition, the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the home, equal justice under law, and the reservation of powers to the people. . . . I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country."
-Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1891-1974) 
Note that the Justices quoted above not only stated a firm belief in our nation's Christian roots, but expressed the view that our very survival as a nation was tied to remaining true to the principles embodied therein. Sadly, our increasing departure from those precepts will certainly be our nation's undoing. It seems reasonable to conclude that the 1892 Supreme Court ruling affirming our Christian roots, together with the corroborating views of many prominent officials, are an accurate reflection of the prevailing view held by Americans in the early years of our nation. US Presidents, Senators and Congressmen, judges, and American citizens from every walk of life have lent their own testimony to the same belief, and their words affirming that belief are still with us today. Not until after World War II did those solemn sentiments begin to change on a national level, and our legislative body begin to ratify them, in stark contrast to the consensus of opinion that prevailed for the first 170 years.
So then, sadly, 'the wall' that Jefferson said was there to protect religious liberty from the government has become a barrier the government uses to incarcerate that liberty, walling it off from society. Both the founding fathers and many esteemed Supreme Court Justices of their day would no doubt wonder, as we do, how the clear prohibition in the first amendment against restricting religious liberties could possibly have been twisted by the Supreme Court into what it is today. How sad it is that so many Americans have been so duped into believing the founders sought to protect society from God's influence, when it is clear that a majority of them depended
on it to properly govern our Republic.
"The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all nations that forget God." (Psalms 9:17)
1. Richmond v. Moore, 107 Ill. 429, 1883 WL 10319 (Ill.), 47 Am.Rep. 445 (Ill. 1883). (return to text)
2. B. F. Morris, Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Developed in the Official and Historical Annals of the Republic (Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1864), p. 639.
3. John Marshall, The Papers of John Marshall, Charles Hobson, editor (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), Vol. XII, p. 278, to Rev. Jasper Adams, May 9, 1833.
4. Joseph Story, Life and Letters of Joseph Story, William W. Story, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), Vol. II, pp. 8, 92.
5. “Breakfast in Washington,” Time, February 15, 1954 (at: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/ar...936197,00.html