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Separation of Church and State: What does that mean?

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Separation of Church and State:  What does that mean?

The idea of separation of church and state comes from the First Admendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

The first amendment:

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.

What does this mean?

The first amendment to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights that expressly prohibits the United States Congress from making laws “respecting an establishment of religion” or that prohibit the free exercise of religion, laws that infringe the freedom of speech, infringe the freedom of the press, limit the right to peaceably assemble, or limit the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  Pertaining to the separation of church and state, this basically means that the government cannot create laws to govern the church, and vice versa.

To further explain this concept, we have to look at other documents which were written by the founding fathers.  The idea and term “wall of separation” originated in a letter from President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association.

Thomas Jefferson’s Letter

Mr. President

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

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem & 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 & zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more & 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, 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.

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 and blessing of the common Father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

(signed) Thomas Jefferson

Jan.1.1802.

Key Phrases and Ideas

  • my duties dictate a faithful & zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents = I report to the citizens 

  • religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god = government shouldn’t interfer with religion 

  • the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions = NOT OPINIONS 

  • building a wall of separation between church and state = reinforcing the separation 

 

These documents were written in 1802.  Why is that important?
In the early years of the colonies, there was no religion except Christianity, and mostly Protestant Christianity at that. Catholics (who weren’t considered Christian at the time) & Jews made up less than three percent of the total population.  (WikiBible Project)
The Founding Fathers were basing many of the principles on Christian themes, as this was all they knew. 
What about today’s religious population?
The following are the top 10 organized religions in the U.S. (NSRI, ARIS 2004 data):
  1. Christianity 76.5%
  2. Non-religious 13.2%
  3. Judaism 1.3%
  4. Islam .5%
  5. Buddhism .5%
  6. Agnostic .5%
  7. Atheist .4%
  8. Hinduisim .3%
  9. Unitarian Universalist .3%
  10. Wiccan/Pagan/Druid .1%

The U.S. has changed considerably in religious population from when the idea of separation of church and state was formed in the late 1790s and today.  Christians made up 97% of the total population, but have dropped to 76.5% (losing roughly 20%). 

What religion is gaining?

Between 2001 and 2004 (NSRI, ARIS data), one of the biggest jumps was in Hinduism at 237%.  Other large jumps were made by:  Bahai 200%, Buddhism 170%, Native American religions 119%, Non-religious 110%, Islam 109% and Unitarian Universalist 25%.

For complete details of the study.

The face of America is changing, and so are it’s beliefs.

For more information on the concept of the separation of church and state:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by kickingalion

November 10, 2008 at 7:22 pm

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