Separation of Church and State
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- Separation of Church and State -
What does the Constitution Really Say?


Today there is much confusion about what the U.S. Constitution actually says about the separation of church and state. In many circles it is generally accepted as fact that "separation of church and state" is in the Constitution. Therefore, it is claimed that society must be cleansed from all public displays of religious values, characteristics, activities and icons.

Is that correct? Is "separation of church and state" in the Constitution, or was it our Founding Fathers intent to separate the two? This is a crucial foundational issue because the President, members of Congress and the Supreme Court all take oaths of office swearing to uphold the Constitution. Therefore, by definition, any action taken outside the intent of the Constitution is unconstitutional. To find the answer, it is necessary to examine two issues: 1) what is actually written in the Constitution; and 2) what our Founding Fathers' intent was in writing it.

First, the Constitution itself. The First Amendment to the Constitution is supposedly where it says there is separation of church and state. It states: "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 of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." That's it…no mention of any separation. So it is clear the Constitution itself neither endorses nor supports a separation of church and state.

The next step is to determine the intent of the First Amendment. Critics point to the part of the First Amendment that says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." to show that separation of church and state was in fact the intention of the Founding Fathers. However, our Founding Fathers had a very specific intent in making the establishment of a religion an unconstitutional act, and a very specific definition of what that means. Most of them came from England where the government gave preference to and provided money and support for one of the Christian religions (the Anglican Church) and chose it as that country's "official" religion. They did not want the government establishing a national religion here. They wanted the government to stay out of religion, not for religious principles to be eliminated from government. Their desire was for the United States to be a nation with it's values and laws based on Christian principles, but did not want the government choosing one Christian religion (Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, etc.) over another and establish it as it's "official" religion.

The same Founding Fathers who wrote the First Amendment that prohibited the government from establishing a national religion also believed that allowing and encouraging public religious practice was not the same as establishing a religion. Establishing a religion would require a government-sponsored set of beliefs, rules which must be obeyed by everyone, official ministers to teach the selected doctrine and penalties for those who do not conform. Our Founding Fathers were men of faith and wanted Christianity to be included in every aspect of life. The intent of the First Amendment was never to separate Christianity and state. If that had been the intent, it would never have been ratified.

Every country's laws are based on that society's values. The foundation of those values is the morals of that society, and religious beliefs are the basis for those morals. Countries where Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc. are the main religion all have laws based on those values. Other countries have laws based on atheism or paganism. For the same reason, it is neither abnormal nor inappropriate for a country's laws and values to be based on Christianity. In fact, it is extremely advantageous since it is those Christian principles that have provided the very foundation that has allowed the U.S. to become the greatest and strongest country ever in the history of the world. More than any other country based on any other values, we have greater freedom of worship, freedom of speech and freedom of press; a better system of justice; greater opportunity for education and economic success; the best medical care; and a higher standard of living. Is it any wonder that people from all over the world want to live here?

The Constitution guarantees everyone freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. Not only is the public and private practice of religion a Constitutional right, it is, as our Founding Fathers believed, absolutely necessary for a successful society. As indicated below, they believed strongly that religion and morality in general, and Christianity in particular: 1) produces the public morality without which government can not long survive; 2) establishes the principles upon which freedom can reign; 3) are essential for national success; and 4) are indispensable supports for good government and political prosperity. Consequently, the promotion of the principles of religion and morality was accepted and expected as sound public policy. For this reason, they neither created nor tolerated acts diminishing Christianity's effect. No government would commit suicide by intentionally destroying its foundation.

The following information clearly shows that the intent of the Founding Fathers was to include the values and principles of Christianity in every aspect of public and private life:

  • George Washington was the first President of the United States, president of the Constitutional Convention and General in charge of the Revolutionary Army. He believed strongly that religion and government should be intertwined:

    "Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. Purity of morals is the only sure foundation of public happiness in any country. The federal government…can never be in danger of depredating [plundering]…so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of people…Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society."
  • "The propitious [favorable] smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained."

    "If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed in the Convention where I had the honor to preside might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical [religious] society, certainly I would never had placed my signature to it."

    On June 12, 1779, to the Delaware Indian Chiefs, Washington declared: "You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ…Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise intention."

    In his farewell address, he stated: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness."

  • John Adams served in the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence, was the U.S. Minister to France, served two terms as Vice President under George Washington, and was the second President of the United States. While Minister to France, Adams worked closely with the French government for 10 years. This provided him the opportunity to observe a government conducted without Christian principles. Adams predicted that a republican form of government would not be successful in France, "a republic of thirty million atheists." He further believed that that not only atheism, but widespread immorality would keep the French from producing a lasting government. It was the two ingredients of religion and morality that made America distinctly different from France. With that as a background, he made several statements about the inclusion of Christianity in politics and public affairs:

    "Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only Law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited...What a paradise this region be!"

    "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. Its is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
  • "Statesman, my dear sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can surely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue."

    "The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity, and humanity."

    The day after Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, Adams wrote about the importance of that special July day in 1776: "I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty." There is no doubt that John Adams firmly believed Christianity to be the foundation for both politics and public affairs.

  • James Madison is known as "The Chief Architect of the Constitution" because of his tireless work in its writing and adoption. In addition, he was one of the three authors of The Federalist Papers, served eight years in Congress, eight years as Secretary of State, and eight years as the fourth President of the United States. The following statement shows his thoughts of the relationship between Christianity and government: "Religion is the basis and foundation of government."

    With his intimate knowledge of the Constitution, he surely would have known if there was an intent to separate Christianity from the Constitution or from government. Yet he declared: "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the whole future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God." Madison believed that the future of America rested not on the Constitution, but on the ability of every individual to conduct himself according to the Ten Commandments! So how can it be unconstitutional to display the Ten Commandments anywhere in public?

  • Samuel Adams instigated the Boston Tea Party, signed the Declaration of Independence, called for the first Continental Congress in 1774, and served as a member of those Congresses until 1781.

    When discussing the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Adams declared, "We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven, and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come."

    Regarding his personal beliefs: "Principally and first of all…relying upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins."

    He also believed that that religion and morality were inseparable from good government: "Religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness. Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt."

  • John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, was Secretary of State under James Monroe and was elected the sixth president of the United States. After his Presidency, he served eighteen years in the House of Representatives. With this impressive background, he held strong sentiments regarding the importance of Christian principles to civil government and saw no allowance for their separation from each other: "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity."

  • Patrick Henry was active in American politics throughout his life. He was a member of the Continental Congress, Commander-in-Chief of Virginia’s military, helped write the first constitution of Virginia, served many years in Virginia’s legislature and was elected Virginia’s governor for five terms. He declined offers from George Washington as the nation’s Secretary of State and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was also largely responsible for the adoption of the first ten amendments to the Constitution (the Bill of Rights). Since he was a driving force behind the First Amendment, did Patrick Henry think that it separated church and state?

    "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions but on the gospel of Jesus Christ! For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here."

    "The great pillars of all government and of social life...[are] virtue, morality and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible."

    "This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed."

  • Alexander Hamilton was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Revolutionary War, signed the Constitution, authored 51 of the 85 Federalist Papers which were of immense consequence in influencing the ratification of the Constitution, and was the first Secretary of the Treasury.

    "I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty; through the merits of the the Lord Jesus Christ. I am a sinner. I look to Him for mercy."
  • In discussing the importance of the relationship between Christianity and Constitutional freedom: "Let an association be formed to be denominated "The Christian Constitutional Society." Its object to be first: The support of the Christian religion; and second: The support of the United States."

  • Noah Webster was a soldier in the Revolution, served nine terms in the Connecticut General Assembly, three terms in the Massachusetts’ Legislature, and four years as a judge. He was one of the first Founding Fathers to call for a Constitution Convention and was one of the most active in the ratification of the Constitution. Webster held that Christianity and government could not and should not be separated:
  • "The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person, a brother or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government."

    "The moral principle and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws…All the miseries and evils which men suffer from: vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible."

    Having helped establish our constitutional government, Webster recognized the principles which had given birth to the nation must be transmitted to future generations to ensure continued national success. He has been titled "America’s Schoolmaster" for his extensive efforts in establishing sound education in America. He knew that sound education was the guardian of true republican principles. In other words, the quality of our government would depend upon the quality of our education. Webster believed that Christian principles must be inseparable from any sound educational system and should be taught in schools: "In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed…No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people."

  • John Hancock was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence and member of the Continental Congress. He stated: "Sensible of the importance of Christian piety and virtue to the order and happiness of a state, I cannot but earnestly commend you to every measure for their support and encouragement…Manners, by which not only the freedom but the very existence of the republics are greatly affected, depend much upon the public institutions of religion."

  • John Dickinson signed the Constitution: "Rendering thanks to my Creator for my existence and station among His works, for my birth in a country enlightened by the Gospel and enjoying freedom, and for all His other kindnesses, to Him I resign myself, humbly confiding in His goodness and in His mercy through Jesus Christ for the events of eternity."

  • Gouverneur Morris was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Constitutional Convention and the most prolific as well, speaking 173 times on the Convention floor. As head of the Committee on Style, he was responsible for translating the ideas of the Convention on to paper. In a literal sense, he actually "wrote" the Constitution. Therefore, having been intimately involved with formation of the Constitution, he offered some suggestions to the French in their efforts to establish their new government. He recommended the following: "Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man towards God." The man who "wrote" the Constitution declared that for self-government to work it is necessary that religion be taught in schools!

  • Thomas Jefferson was the 3rd President of the U.S., served in the Virginia assembly and penned the Declaration of Independence. However, he was not a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, nor was he a member of Congress in 1789 which framed the First Amendment, nor was he a member of any ratifying convention at any time relevant to the passage of the First Amendment. He was serving as U.S. Minister to France at the time. Yet he too clearly believed in religion as the basis for good society.

    While President, he became the first president of the Washington D.C. school board, which used the Bible and Watt's Hymnal as reading tests in the classroom. Jefferson felt the Bible was essential in any successful plan of education: "I have always said, and always will say, that the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens."

    Jefferson understood the important relationship between government and religion. He stated that religion is "deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support."

    He also declared: "God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever."

  • The Liberty Bell, which was rung on July 8, 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was first read publicly, has an inscription from the Bible on its side: "Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. Leviticus 25:10" The symbol most closely associated with the Revolution proclaims that the Bible and government were bound together.

  • In the weeks preceding the official separation from Great Britain, Congress encouraged the national pursuit of God. Foreseeing a full-scale war, Congress was determined that the nation not enter such a conflict unless it was in a proper relationship with God. Consequently, on May 16, 1776 Congress proclaimed: "The Congress…Desirous…to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God’s superintending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely…on His aid and direction…Do earnestly recommend…a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life…and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain His pardon and forgiveness."

  • On September 12, 1782, Congress approved the governmental printing of the first English-language Bible printed in America. Printed in the front of that Bible was the following Congressional endorsement: "Whereupon, Resolved, That the United States Congress…recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States." Of this event, one early historian observed: "Who, in view of this fact, will call in question the assertion that this is a Bible nation? Who will charge the government with indifference to religion…?" Who could?

  • An 1853 report by the Senate Judiciary Committee described the fundamental role of Christianity in American education: "We are a Christian people…not because the law demands it, not to gain exclusive benefits or to avoid legal disabilities, but from choice and education; and in a land thus universally Christian, what is to be expected, what desired, but that we shall pay a due regard to Christianity?"

  • Another proof that the First Amendment was never intended to separate Christianity from public affairs came in the form of legislation by the same Congress which created the First Amendment. That legislation was the Northwest Ordinance, which provided the procedure and requirements whereby territories could attain statehood in the United States. Article III of the Northwest Ordinance addressed the importance of religion to the territories: "Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education, shall forever be encouraged." In other words, the framers of the First Amendment felt that schools and educational systems were the proper places to encourage religion, morality and knowledge. Since the same Congress which prohibited the "establishment of religion" also required that religion be taught in schools, obviously they did not view a federal requirement to teach religion in schools as a violation of the First Amendment.

  • Benjamin Rush was a Founding Father and signer the Declaration of Independence. "The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effectual means of extirpating [extinguishing] Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that is was improper to read the Bible at schools. The Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period in life...[It] should be read in our schools in preference to all other books from its containing the greatest portion of that kind of knowledge which is calculated to produce private and public happiness."

  • Today’s stand by the courts is exactly the opposite to that taken by the first Supreme Court Justices, many of whom were members of the Constitutional Convention. The following comments concerning the intent of the First Amendment are from John Jay, the original Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court:

    "The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts."

  • Joseph Story, known as the "Father of American Jurisprudence", was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President James Madison, "The Chief Architect of the Constitution," surely an ample endorsement of Story’s Constitutional understanding:
  • "We are not to attribute this prohibition of a national religious establishment to an indifference to religion in general, and especially to Christianity (which none could hold in more reverence than the framers of the Constitution)…" "It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs whether any free government can be permanent where the public worship of God and the support of religion constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape."

    "One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is that Christianity is part of the Common Law...There has never 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."

  • Two hundred years of Supreme Court decisions also clearly authenticated that we are a Christian nation. For example, in 1892 the Court declared: "This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation…These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons; they are organic utterances; they speak the voice of the entire people…These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation." Organic, in a legal sense, means "belonging to the fundamental or constitutional law." "Organic utterances" are the base on which laws are made and are therefore part of the law. They are what are termed the "common law."

  • In the early 1970’s, a group of political scientists embarked on an ambitious ten-year project to analyze more than 15,000 political writings from our nation’s Founding Era (1760-1805). Those writings were examined with the goal of identifying the specific sources cited by the Founders in their writings, which would permit the origin of their ideas to be determined. The researchers discovered that one source of inspiration for the Founder’s ideas was cited far and away more than any other…the Bible. It was quoted fifty-percent more than the next closest source, which is a significant commentary on its importance in the foundation of our government.
  • It is clear that our Founding Fathers openly promoted, encouraged and advanced public religious expression. Therefore, if the separation of church and state is "in the Constitution" as critics contend, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that either our Founding Fathers did not understand the Constitution, which they wrote, or they intentionally violated it! Both are clearly absurd conclusions.

    No other conclusion except that our nation was founded on Christian principles and that separation of church and state is unconstitutional is possible after a thorough and honest examination of America’s history.

    For more information about the Biblical foundation of our nation, visit Wallbuilders.

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