The Fallacy of Religion and the Constitution

Modern commentators often cite the “Separation of church and State,” yet this is not a concept enshrined in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

It’s also fair to say that legislation from around the time the U.S. was founded was most likely worded the way it was to protect religion from the government, not the government from religion.

Thomas Jefferson, in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist association, wrote, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, [the people, in the 1st Amendment,] 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.”

Picture of Isaak Presley reciting the Pledge.

However it is important to realize the context of the times to ascertain what was intended. Most people are aware that religion is only referred to once in the original Constitution, at the end of the third clause of Article 6: [N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

It is likely that this was a method to prevent any one religion becoming a dominant force in the US, a factor that was later expanded in the Bill of Rights and amendments. All the framers were without exception Christian (or deists). However they were from more than half a dozen sects of Protestant Christianity and two framers were Roman Catholic. Therefore the context if all issues pertaining to religion and God was in the very different beliefs and worship practices between faiths. The desire was to make sure no faction could get an upper hand in the US government at the expense of others.

The Bill of Rights is made up of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. It came about at the time of the ratification of the original Constitution by the states in 1787-88. Most of the state constitutions contained a Bill of Rights and pressure mounted to include one in the Constitution. On June 8, 1789, James Madison in a speech in the House introduced a series of articles of amendment. One concerned religious freedom: “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”

Again the question is what is the motivation for such a clause? Many state bills enshrined the central nature of religion in society and it is reasonable to conclude the rationale was again to protect religion from government not vice versa. As an example, here is an extract from the Virginia state Bill of Rights: "That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men have an equal, natural and unalienable right to the exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience, and that no particular sect or society ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others."

This is not an isolated view at the time, New York had a similar clause.

That the people have an equal, natural, and unalienable right freely and peaceably to exercise their religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that no religious sect or society ought to be favored or established by law in preference to others.

In conclusion it is more than likely that the modern day interpretation of state and religion is a revisionist one, one that was not intended by the framers of the Constitution.

Read One Nation Under God: About

Read One Nation Under God: The Fallacy of Religion and the Constitution

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