Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.* But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter, together with the laws made coincident therewith, were adapted as the basis of our government at the time of our revolution.
With all the to-do about religion and, in particular Christianity, running up to the GOP nomination and the Presidential election I’ve been thinking a lot about the separation of church and state. We’ve all heard the tired trope about Thomas Jefferson’s phrasing in his letter to the Danbury Baptists referencing a “wall of separation between church and state” not meaning that religion has no place in politics. In fact I’ve heard on a number of occasions Dr. James Dobson reiterating that Jefferson’s letter was merely to assure these Christian men that their religious freedom to worship in the way they chose would not be infringed upon and that Jefferson, himself, would see to that. They believe that the wall of separation has a door and that door only opens one way. The first amendment is trounced in making the case that Americans have freedom of religion not freedom from religion.
Context is everything. What prompted this response from Thomas Jefferson? It was the letter written to to him by the Danbury Baptists from which the above quote was excerpted. It was their religious liberty they were afraid would be lost. But, and this is a big but, they also clearly recognized everyone else right to religious liberty. They, even as Christians, believed that the opinions of individuals about religion was, for lack of a better term, a God-given right and that no one should be punished or discriminated against based on those opinions.
Nowhere in the Constitution, Jefferson’s letter, nor the Danbury Baptist’s letter does it intimate that this wall of separation is there so long as everyone worships the same God. The cry of candidates like Rick Santorum, who says that the separation of church and state is not absolute, is that you and I may have religious liberty as long as we all believe in the Christian God. That implicitly infringes on individual religious liberty.
What happened to religion at all times and places being a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor? Laws should not be formed and implemented based on solely religious ideals. Laws should be formed and enacted based on the greater good of society.
I will always be on the side of individual religious liberty. Imagine if another religion becomes the majority. According to Christians that is likely to happen. Now imagine that the new majority religion decides to start blurring that line as much as Christians have. Yeah, nobody wants that. We are all better off with that wall up and the door sealed forever.
Your Bible governs you. Not me. Not the rest of society. How other people live is between them and their God, or not. The Constitution guarantees you, me, and everyone else that right. You don’t have to like it, but that’s what was supposed to make America different and great.