On October 7, 1801, the Danbury Baptists Association wrote a letter to President Thomas Jefferson, in which they sought assurance from him that the Constitution had included a firm provision for the protection of religious freedoms for all. Their concern was no doubt predicated on memories of the oppressive rule of "the king's religion," imposed on the Colonists while they were still residents of England; 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 afford and 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 analogy of a "wall" that he said was 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 clearly assuring the Danbury baptists that the wall was there to protect the practice of faith from interference by the government. Not one word in the text implies that he was alluding to a prohibition of practicing faith in the public square, or even condoning a separation of faith from the sphere of government--to the extent that elected officials chose to exercise or advertise their faith. Not one word about prohibiting symbols representing the Christian faith, or any other faith, from the public square.
To interpret Jefferson's words as a mandate for restricting faith to a church building or private home, is to distort his intent. But that is precisely what the US Supreme Court did in 1947, in ruling on Everson v Board of Education. 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 successfully twisted Jefferson's words from a private letter to do it! Yet, the first amendment's true intent should be obvious to any unbiased reader, particularly in the context of Jefferson seeking to allay concerns about any intrusion by the government. View the wording of the amendment in that context:
"Congress shall make no law concerning the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Simple, right? "The government is not authorized to pass laws establishing a national religion, nor is it authorized to hinder any person from freely exercising his preferred religion."
The very first amendment that the founders added to the Constitution concerned religious freedom. It seemed that important. And the obvious intent espoused in the wording of that amendment, was to protect religion from government--not the other way around. The US Capitol building--in which that very amendment was drafted, and added to the Constitution--was used a church, for Pete's sake; a practice which continued until after the Civil War. The Continental Congress allocated money to purchase Bibles for the people--even when the Revolutionary War made money hard to come by. Meetings of Congress always opened with prayer, and Washington began the tradition of taking the oath of office on the Bible. Does it really sound like a wall between faith and the government was erected by the founding fathers?
Every time a citizen of this country is forbidden to pray, read a Bible, or talk about God, Jesus or even angels--anywhere, and at any time in the US--that clearly amounts to "prohibiting the free exercise thereof," and is a blatant violation of the Constitution--amazingly, enforced by the same Constitution. No such contradiction would not have existed in the time of the founders. 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 want it there; invoke the name of Jesus Christ, or 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 their belief in our nation's Christian roots, but added their contention that our very survival as a nation was tied to our being true to the principles embodied therein. Sadly, our increasing departure from those precepts will indeed certainly be our nation's undoing. It seems reasonable to conclude that the 1892 Supreme Court ruling affirming our Christian roots, and the corroborating views of many of the prominent officials, including Supreme Court Justices who served therein, 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, nor 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 politicians, has become a barrier that politicians use to imprison that liberty, walling it off from society. As for as the protection promised in the second clause of the first amendment--forbidding any restrictions on those liberties, our founding fathers would no doubt wonder, even as we do, how it could possibly have been twisted into what it is today. Or how Americans have been so duped into believing the founders sought to protect society from God's influence, when it is so clear that an overwhelming majority of them depended on it to govern America. Learn the truth about America's Christian roots: http://www.wallbuilders.com
"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