Milum

The Truth About the Separation of Church and State So Help Me God!

 
By Vince Milum, J.D., MBA, CPCU, ARM

Copyright © 2018.  All rights reserved.
 
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God and Adam

1. "One Nation Under God"

2. "In God We Trust"

3. The unalienable rights discussed in the U.S. Declaration of Independence were "Endowed by the[] Creator"

4. In the United States, there is a "Separation of Church and State"


It is very difficult to reconcile the first three above with the last one and for good reason which we will disucss.

Let's begin with the last statement.

Based on my experience, most Americans (including many, if not most of my fellow law school graduates) WRONGLY believe that the phrase ("separation of church and state") can be found in the United States Constitution.  In fact, the phrase's origination is traced to a January 1, 1802 letter from then-President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association, wherein he writes:

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which 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 & State."  [emphasis added]

Later in the letter, Jefferson re-invokes his "Creator" line above (see #3) from the Declaration of Independence when he writes in the same letter to the Danbury Baptists, "I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man...."

So, what did Jefferson really believe about his "Creator" God?

To find out, we must look to his private correspondence.  Specifically, a lengthy letter he wrote to his nephew, Peter Carr, who was in many ways, the son Jefferson never had.*  (*Jefferson did have a son by his wife, Martha, but he lived but a few weeks after his birth, and a male Jefferson though it is unclear which one is believed to have fathered some of the children of Jefferson's slave, Sally Hemings.)

Below, I will publish the entirety of the "Religion" section of the "coming of age" letter that Jefferson wrote from Paris, on August 10, 1787 to his maturing nephew.  By my publishing this entire section, I hope to allow you to form your own unadulterated opinion as to where Jefferson stood philosophically on the church-state and Creator spectrums:
 

  • Religion.  Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty & singularity of opinion. Indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. It is too important, and the consequences of error may be too serious. On the other hand, shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. You will naturally examine first, the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates. For example, in the book of Joshua, we are told, the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus, we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, &c. But it is said, that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine, therefore, candidly, what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand, you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis, as the earth does, should have stopped, should not, by that sudden stoppage, have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time gave resumed its revolution, & that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities? You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended & reversed the laws of nature at will, & ascended bodily into heaven; and 2, of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition, by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law, which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, & the second by exile, or death in fureâ. See this law in the Digest Lib. 48. tit. 19. §. 28. 3. & Lipsius Lib 2. de cruce. cap. 2. These questions are examined in the books I have mentioned under the head of religion, & several others. They will assist you in your inquiries, but keep your reason firmly on the watch in reading them all.

    Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a God, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a God, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat, you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness of the decision. I forgot to observe, when speaking of the New Testament, that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well of those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us, to be Pseudo-evangelists, as those they named Evangelists. Because these Pseudo-evangelists pretended to inspiration, as much as the others, and you are to judge their pretensions by your own reason, and not by the reason of those ecclesiastics. Most of these are lost. There are some, however, still extant, collected by Fabricius, which I will endeavor to get & send you.

 
What about "One Nation Under God" and "In God We Trust"?

Per Wikipedia:

"The Pledge of Allegiance, as it exists in its current form, was composed in August 1892 by Francis Bellamy (1855–1931), who was a Baptist minister, a Christian socialist, and the cousin of socialist utopian novelist Edward Bellamy (1850–1898).... Bellamy's original Pledge read: 'I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all'."

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance_(United_States)

As to the addition of the phrase "Under God," the same Wikipedia article further explains:
 

  • Louis Albert Bowman, an attorney from Illinois, was the first to suggest the addition of "under God" to the pledge. The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution gave him an Award of Merit as the originator of this idea. He spent his adult life in the Chicago area and was chaplain of the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. At a meeting on February 12, 1948, he led the society in reciting the pledge with the two words "under God" added. He said that the words came from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Although not all manuscript versions of the Gettysburg Address contain the words "under God", all the reporters' transcripts of the speech as delivered do, as perhaps Lincoln may have deviated from his prepared text and inserted the phrase when he said "that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom." Bowman repeated his revised version of the Pledge at other meetings.

    In 1951, the Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization, also began including the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. In New York City, on April 30, 1951, the board of directors of the Knights of Columbus adopted a resolution to amend the text of their Pledge of Allegiance at the opening of each of the meetings of the 800 Fourth Degree Assemblies of the Knights of Columbus by addition of the words "under God" after the words "one nation." Over the next two years, the idea spread throughout Knights of Columbus organizations nationwide. On August 21, 1952, the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus at its annual meeting adopted a resolution urging that the change be made universal, and copies of this resolution were sent to the President, the Vice President (as Presiding Officer of the Senate), and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The National Fraternal Congress meeting in Boston on September 24, 1952, adopted a similar resolution upon the recommendation of its president, Supreme Knight Luke E. Hart. Several State Fraternal Congresses acted likewise almost immediately thereafter. This campaign led to several official attempts to prompt Congress to adopt the Knights of Columbus policy for the entire nation. These attempts were eventually a success.

    At the suggestion of a correspondent, Representative Louis C. Rabaut (D-Mich.), of Michigan sponsored a resolution to add the words "under God" to the Pledge in 1953.

    Before February 1954, no endeavor to get the pledge officially amended had succeeded. The final successful push came from George MacPherson Docherty. Some American presidents honored Lincoln's birthday by attending services at the church Lincoln attended, New York Avenue Presbyterian Church by sitting in Lincoln's pew on the Sunday nearest February 12. On February 7, 1954, with President Eisenhower sitting in Lincoln's pew, the church's pastor, George MacPherson Docherty, delivered a sermon based on the Gettysburg Address entitled "A New Birth of Freedom." He argued that the nation's might lay not in arms but rather in its spirit and higher purpose. He noted that the Pledge's sentiments could be those of any nation: "There was something missing in the pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life." He cited Lincoln's words "under God" as defining words that set the US apart from other nations.

    President Eisenhower had been baptized a Presbyterian very recently, just a year before. He responded enthusiastically to Docherty in a conversation following the service. Eisenhower acted on his suggestion the next day and on February 8, 1954, Rep. Charles Oakman (R-Mich.), introduced a bill to that effect. Congress passed the necessary legislation and Eisenhower signed the bill into law on Flag Day, June 14, 1954. Eisenhower said:

    "From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.... In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war."

    The phrase "under God" was incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance on June 14, 1954, by a Joint Resolution of Congress amending § 4 of the Flag Code enacted in 1942.

    On October 6, 1954, the National Executive Committee of the American Legion adopted a resolution, first approved by the Illinois American Legion Convention in August 1954, which formally recognized the Knights of Columbus for having initiated and brought forward the amendment to the Pledge of Allegiance.

  
Like the Pledge's "One Nation Under God," "In God We Trust" as the National Motto dates NOT to the founding of the nation but to the Cold War.

Per Wikipedia:
 

  • "In God We Trust" is the official motto of the United States of America.... It was adopted as the nation's motto in 1956 as a replacement or alternative to the unofficial motto of E pluribus unum, which was adopted when the Great Seal of the United States was created and adopted in 1782.

    "In God We Trust" first appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864 and has appeared on paper currency since 1957. A law passed in a Joint Resolution by the 84th Congress (P.L. 84-140) and approved by President Dwight Eisenhower on July 30, 1956, declared "In God We Trust" must appear on American currency. This phrase was first used on paper money in 1957, when it appeared on the one-dollar silver certificate. The first paper currency bearing the phrase entered circulation on October 1, 1957. The 84th Congress later passed legislation (P.L. 84-851), also signed by President Eisenhower on July 30, 1956, declaring the phrase to be the national motto....

    The phrase appears to have originated in "The Star-Spangled Banner", written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. The fourth stanza includes the phrase, "And this be our motto: 'In God is our Trust.'"

 
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_God_We_Trust
 
(NOTE: The above-cited article provides a more-detailed and fascinating history than I can relate here; I encourage you to read the article in its entirety should you find the time.)

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So, after all of the above, where do I stand on the great church-state debate?  I will be happy to tell anyone in private especially in a colloquy.  However, for the purpose of this essay, my intent was simply to inform you of the facts and to let you draw your own conclusions.  To that end, I hope I have been successful.  If I failed in my mission, let the one of you without sin cast the first stone!
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POSTSCRIPT: For a scholarly look at the beliefs of America's Founding Fathers, I recommend reading The American Deists: Voices of Reason and Dissent in the Early Republic by Kerry S. Walters (Copyright © 1992 by the University Press of Kansas).
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Wikipedia Disclaimer by Vince Milum: I am well aware of the limitations of Wikipedia, however, I choose it as a reference source (when sharing articles with others in an informal / non-technical manner) because it is both free and readily accessible, thereby eliminating any unnecessary hardship for "non-insiders" to sufficiently grasp my writings without the need to resort to a system of over-technicalities of formal citation merely to convey a simple point.  When writing a more formal or academic piece, I assure you that I use more traditional reference sources and citation methods as is custom to whatever audience I may be writing for at that time.

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