Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd: Separation of Church and State

0
440

   The phrase “Separation of Church and State” is a popular phrase that is often quoted when discussing religion and government or debating whether to allow prayer and Biblical teachings in public schools. So where does the popular phrase originate from? Is it stated in the First Amendment, or is it elsewhere in the U.S. Constitution? The answer is NO! In fact, the phrase is not found in any of our founding documents. The First Amendment simply states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

   During the discussions of the drafting of the First Amendment, (recorded in the Congressional Records) was crystal clear. By it, the Founders were saying: “We do not want in America what we had in Great Britain: we don’t want one denomination running the nation. We will not all be Catholics, or Anglicans, or any other single denomination. We do want God’s principles, but we don’t want one denomination running the nation.”

   So where does the phrase “Separation of Church and State” come from? In 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, heard a rumor that the Congregationalist denomination was about to be made the national denomination. The Baptist Association wrote a letter to President Thomas Jefferson to voice their disapproval. Jefferson replied back in a letter and wrote, “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.”

   Even though Jefferson was in France at the time the First Amendment was being drafted, discussed, and passed, his phrase “Separation of Church and State” has played a major impact in deciding the role of our Judeo-Christian principles as it pertains to our nation.

   In the first 150 years, it was clear that the First Amendment prohibited the establishment of a single national denomination. During that time, National policies and Court rulings always reflected that interpretation. In fact, in one Supreme Court ruling they referred to our nation as a “uniquely Christian nation.”

   In 1853, a group petitioned Congress to separate Christian principles from government. After investigating for almost a year, both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees returned their reports. The following are excerpts from the House report delivered on May 27, 1854 (the Senate report was very similar):

   “Had the people [the Founding Fathers], during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged, but not any one sect [denomination]…. In this age, there is no substitute for Christianity….That was the religion of the founders of the republic, and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants.”

   Two months later, the Judiciary Committee made this strong declaration: “The great, vital, and conservative element in our system [the thing that holds our system together] is the belief of our people in the pure doctrines and divine truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The Committees explained that they would not separate these principles, for it was these principles and activities which had made us so successful — they had been our foundation, our basis.

   For the first 150 years, I do believe the framers actually embraced the Judeo-Christian principles when framing our Constitution, but now our society and most of our federal judges are rejecting any expression or character of those principles. We are treating the religious principles of our heritage like a disease that must be expunged from our society.

   If our nation was not founded on Judeo-Christian principles then why is there so much evidence to prove different? Here are just a few:

• Inscribed over the Speaker of the House in the US Capitol are the words “In God We Trust.” 

• The Supreme Court building built in the 1930’s has carvings of Moses and the Ten

  Commandments.

• God is mentioned in stone all over Washington D.C., on its monuments and buildings.

• As a nation, we have celebrated Christmas to commemorate the Savior’s birth for centuries.

• Oaths in courtrooms have invoked God from the beginning.

• Our national anthem mentions God.

• The liberty bell has a Bible verse engraved on it.

• The original Constitution of all 50 states mentions God.

• Our nation’s birth certificate, the Declaration of Independence, mentions God four times.

• The Bible was used as a textbook in the schools.

   Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but for me, it’s crystal clear. Jefferson’s intent was to avoid a national denomination. Likewise, I’m also convinced that our Founding Fathers were inspired by God, and our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. In conclusion, here is a quote from John Adams, 2nd U.S. President and Signer of the Declaration of Independence.

   “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! Every member would be obliged in conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love and reverence toward Almighty God… What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be.”

   As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov.