The Wall of Separation and Our First Freedom

It was in 1802 that Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association, stating that the effect of the First Amendment was to build “a wall of separation between Church and State.” (You can read the letter in its entirety here – https://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html)

Before referring to the wall, he writes, “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… ,” Jefferson goes on to state that the First Amendment acts to “restore to man all his natural rights… .”  This implies that among those natural rights is the freedom of religion.  Thus, the first amendment served to restore what governments of the various colonies had taken and to prevent governments from ever taking it again.

Somewhere in the last 216 years things got turned upside down. Instead of the First Amendment protecting our natural rights, it is being used by some to diminish the expression of those rights. The wall, which Jefferson recognized was intended to protect the church from government interference, has become instead a means of fencing in religious influence in the culture.

Thus, a cake maker, or photographer, or the private owner of venue site cannot refuse to provide a service even though it violates their natural religious rights.  Government will not allow them.  The wall of separation, instead of protecting them, is used to corral them and force them to submit. Some have been ordered by government entities to attend training sessions on sensitivity and acceptance.

In the Communist world these were called re-education camps.

A recent Pew Research Center report told that 50 to 70 million Chinese Christians belong to churches that are not registered with the state. In January of this year the Chinese government demolished two large church buildings, unregistered churches, causing fear that this is the beginning of a crackdown on religion.

Believers in unregistered churches vastly outnumber those belonging to the government-regulated “Three Self” churches. The “Three Self Patriotic Movement” tries to restrict, control and twist Christianity to suit the Communist Party. It is not that the unregistered churches are opposed to legal recognition. They would likely welcome the protection it would bring. However, they are opposed to the government control that comes with it.

Our country was settled by people who had lived under governments that mandated acceptable religious practices. They wanted religious freedom. Nearly all of the original colonies had an official state church, but many of the settlers were dissidents who opposed supporting a religion they did not believe in and wanted the freedom to worship as their consciences dictated, not as the state demanded.

Early Baptists were jailed and beaten for conducting worship as they saw fit and for refusing to pay state mandated taxes to support a state church.  Massachusetts Baptists even sent a letter to the First Continental Congress asking for relief, which the assembly denied, stating it was not within their authority to address this issue.

Jump forward, past the War of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution, to the ratification of The Bill of Rights in 1791. The first part of the First Amendment of The Bill of Rights recognizes the freedom that Americans had been demanding since arriving on these shores. The demand for it was so great, it is the first freedom to be addressed.

The “wall,” as Jefferson called it, was to fence in the powers of the state, not the religious conscience of its citizens.

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