I doubt anyone in this country has never heard the phrase, “Separation of Church and State.” It’s often attributed to the First Amendment of the US Constitution in that no church can interfere with state policy or law. It’s been used to eliminate any religious activities or symbols on public property, including prayers during public events (such as school football games). Some have even gone so far as to tell anyone appointed or elected to public office must leave their religious convictions at the door. Others use the phrase and the First Amendment to mean that we have a freedom from religion instead of freedom of religion. Amazing how one little word can change the entire meaning of something, isn’t it?
Yet anyone who’s ever read the Constitution knows that phrase is not there.
So where did it come from?
When our country was in its infancy, many had questions about what the new government had the power to do or not do. One of those concerns was religious freedom. In England, only one church was recognized by the state, and those who wanted to run for any public office were required to be a member of said church. Some churches, in this case the Danbury Baptists, were understandably concerned how they and their members would be recognized by the US Government—if at all, and if they would continue to enjoy their freedom to worship as well as take part in public/state policy-making.
In 1802, they wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson looking for those answers.
Jefferson responded in part: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ʺmake no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,ʺ thus building a wall of separation between Church & 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.” (Emphasis mine).
Both letters can be found here:
Many Christians (especially conservative Christians) hate the “separation of church and state” phrase, because—for one—it’s wrongly attributed to the First Amendment. The second reason I mentioned above in that it’s used to stifle religious freedom and expression instead of protecting it—especially in the public square to the point some politicians are using it as a religious test for governmental appointments (which is also unconstitutional and goes against what Jefferson said in his letter).
So why do I bring all this up now? Simple. Have you noticed that no one is using it anymore?
I believe it’s because government has—for the most part—finally succeeded in shutting them up and shutting them down. They’ve no more reason to bludgeon us with it.
As such, if we want to keep our churches open and free, we need to quit balking at using that phrase and shout it from the figurative rooftops.
Because that “wall of separation” not only means—as the phrase has been used for at least as long as I’ve been alive—that no church can interfere in government/public activity, it also means the government can’t interfere in any church activities. That includes forcing them to shut down down completely or holding services for only a certain number of people.
It’s not enough to say closing churches is unconstitutional anymore (whether temporarily or permanently). It’s become so cliche that it’s background noise that won’t even invoke an eye roll. Now, if we say it’s a violation of separation of church and state, that might make their ears perk up a bit.
In short, it’s time to play by their rules and use the same words they’ve used against us for so long.