The Rapidly Eroding Wall of Separation Between Church and State

(Last revised 5-18-2014)

Considering the April 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling that legislative bodies can begin their meetings and sessions with prayer even if it plainly favors Christianity over other religions, Americans should be concerned about the destruction of the “wall of separation between church and state” that was established by America’s Founders and Framers of the U.S. Constitution.

Americans now need to know the truth, and it helps to consider the words of Thomas Jefferson, the greatest champion for religious freedom.

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, 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 and State." – Thomas Jefferson

"Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it would read ‘A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion,' the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Muslim, the Hindu and Infidel of every denomination.” – Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography

In the latter statement, Jefferson was referring to his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, but Jefferson's views, which were reflected in the statute, actually had great influence, not only in the creation of Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits any religious requirement or test for holding office, but also in the creation of the First Amendment clause that prohibits any law regarding the establishment of religion. And that can be accurately understood only by realizing its true intent and purpose.

As f
or the use of the term “our religion” in Jefferson’s statute, while that was perhaps an acknowledgment that most European Americans at that time were from an English Anglican Christian background, the fact is that Jefferson’s beliefs were more identified with Deism, like most of the other Founders and Framers who were Enlightenment thinkers, and some of the Founders, like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, were Freemasons. And Deists and Freemasons respect all religions that worship the Deity by whatever name.

That in fact is why in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution the Founders and Framers used generic religious terms like "Creator," and "Nature's God," and "Divine Providence." They purposely did not use words specific to one religion --- because they understood that a nation cannot have freedom of religion unless government is neutral regarding religion and shows no favoritism.

That is why on the Supreme Court building, the South Wall Frieze includes figures of lawgivers from the ancient world and includes Menes, Hammurabi, Moses, Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, Draco, Confucius, and Augustus. The North Wall Frieze shows lawgivers from the Middle Ages on and includes representations of Justinian, Muhammad, Charlemagne, John of England, Louis IX of France, Hugo Grotius, Sir William Blackstone, John Marshall, and Napoleon. Furthermore, Muhammad was included in the frieze as an important figure in the history of law.

All those facts have been ignored and even denied by the "religious right" and Christian Dominionists, so we must remind them of the truth, and the Supreme Law of the Land and the intent of the Founders must be honored.

The great thing about it is that it provide religious freedom for all, and it requires government to respect all religions equally.

That means, of course, that Christian churches should be able to sponsor and organize public events to celebrate Christian holidays. However, churches should obtain the required permits and pay all the fees required by the local government. No government, whether municipal or state or federal, should have anything to do with organizing or paying for such events. Moreover, all local and state governments should allow and enable Jewish Temples, Muslim Mosques, Buddhist Temples, Hindu Ashrams and all other religious organizations to organize and sponsor public events that celebrate their religious holidays too. And public prayer to open or close legislative sessions or other government functions should be silent prayer, during a moment of silence, so that each person may pray in their own way.

That would be only fair, and constitutional.

As it is, that kind of fairness and justice does not exist in America. Due to Christian tradition and especially due to the political action of theocratic Christian Dominionists during the last 30 years, many conservative Christians feel that they deserve to dominate and rule. They have even been acting against the rights of other religious groups, and they expect government to honor their demand for superiority and supremacy and even sponsor public Christian events at public expense.

That is actually in violation of the Constitution and the intent of the Founders, because their intention was that names and terms specific to one religion would not be permissible in government documents or in prayers or addresses before government bodies or during government functions. Their official documents and their own public speeches were consistent with that, and nowhere in them will you find the name of Jesus.

Furthermore, it should be understood that while it is perfectly alright for religious groups to celebrate their holidays in public, it should not be at taxpayers expense, nor should government sponsor or organize such events.

Most Americans have not been aware of that, and, because Christianity has been the most dominant religion in America, Christians have simply assumed that entitled them with privileges and rights not granted to other religions by the Constitution. That is why theocratic Christian Dominionists have felt justified by claiming that "America is a Christian Nation," and even that Christianity was meant to be the State Religion. That is not true, and that is why the truth must be told.

The truth is that the Founders' wall of separation between church and state has been eroding for a very long time.

In fact, it has nearly been destroyed because of the theocratic political action of Christian Dominionists that has been increasing for the last 60 years, and quickening since 1981. And that is why the five Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justices were able to get away with ruling as they did in the April 2014 prayer case.

Those biased Justices ruled that prayer obviously favoring one religion over others is alright and constitutional during government functions, but it is not. The correct ruling was issued by Justice Breyer in a dissenting opinion, and Justice Kagan also wrote a dissent joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor.

They all agreed that the decision by five Republican appointed Justices violated the First Amendment clause regarding religion, and they pointed out that even though the town that brought the case was predominantly Christian, in that town there are several churches from different denominations that hold different views, and there are Jewish and Buddhist temples and a Baha’i congregation as well. Therefore, the opinion of the four fair Justices was that Christian prayer during government functions the name of Jesus Christ was unconstitutional. (And in terms of social justice, it was simply unfair and inconsiderate.)

In addition, the April Court ruling by the five biased ruling Republican-appointed Justices broke some significant Supreme Court precedents.

For example, Justice John Paul Stevens once delivered the Court’s opinion that "the simple enactment of this policy, with the purpose and perception of school endorsement of student prayer, was a constitutional violation."

Justice Stevens continued, writing that "such a system encourages divisiveness along religious lines and threatens the imposition of coercion upon those students not desiring to participate in a religious exercise. Simply by establishing this school-related procedure, which entrusts the inherently non-governmental subject of religion to a majoritarian vote, a constitutional violation has occurred."

Joining Justice Stevens in his opinion were Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. They were right then, and their opinions are right today.

It is amazing that this is not obvious to all Americans, because the fact is that this argument was settle long ago.

For example, take the issue of Congressional Chaplains. In spite of the claims of theocratic Christian Dominionists that the establishment of Chaplains of Congress proves that the Founders meant for Christianity to be the State Religion, that is simply not true.

James Madison became a firm opponent of chaplains assuming Christian preeminence and he stated that the appointment of Christian Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress is not   consistent with the Constitution, or with the pure principle of religious freedom. His statement reminds us that: “The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.” And Madison stated that a system in which Chaplains are to be paid by American taxpayers, and in which Chaplains are elected by a majority of the members of Congress, when the majority are Christian, "involves the principle of a national establishment of religion" and is therefor un-constitutional.

Madison also stated that the establishment of a Christian Chaplainship to Congress “is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the [Christian] chaplains elected [by the majority] shut the door of worship against the members whose creeds & consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority.”

Jefferson’s and Madison’s views about that prevailed, and that is why Congressional Chaplains are supposed to be selected as individuals and not as representatives of any religious community, body, or organization. They are supposed to offer generic prayers, without obviously favoring or representing any particular religion. And the same thing is true regarding U.S. Military Chaplains.

Even today the requirements and duties of U.S. military chaplains reflect the Jeffersonian view, even though some evangelical Christian Chaplains today simply ignore that fact.

Nevertheless, Chaplains must be “Sensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians.” Chaplains must “Facilitate the religious requirements of those from all faiths; support and ensure the free practice of religion by being willing to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment of the military, tolerant of diverse religious traditions, and respectful of the rights of individuals to determine their own religious convictions.” And Chaplains must practice an “Interfaith Ministry, and be responsible for religious observances in an environment that is culturally, racially and religiously diverse.”

The facts of the matter are clear, and the historic facts totally refute the claims of the Christian Dominionists who are fighting for the superiority, preeminence and dominance of their religious beliefs.

How Did the Wall of Separation between Church and State Erode?

Americans need to be aware that the erosion of the wall of separation between church and state began long ago. It was threatened in 1800 with the Hamiltonian Federalist notion of a “Christian Meritocracy,” but the victory of Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election stopped that -- for awhile.

In 1823 the "wall" suffered significant damage with the “Christian” Doctrine of Discovery carried over from Europe (which wiped out the rights of indigenous native peoples to their land to open the door to white European settlement). Such erosion of the wall protecting religious freedom continued, and then it increased immensely in the 1950s when theocratic Evangelical Protestants like Billy Graham, Francis Schaeffer and Abraham Vereide began pressuring President Eisenhower and Congress to make Christianity the State Religion.

The Theocrats did not succeed in doing that, of course, because that would a blatant violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution which prohibits any law regarding the establishment of religion.

However, Americans should now be aware that misguided Christian Theocrats did have significant successes in the 1950s. For example, they got Congress to institutionalize and sanction the National Day of Prayer (in 1952) and The National Prayer Breakfast (in 1953), and to this day they are still arranged by evangelical Christians and hosted by Christian members of Congress. (And while that would certainly not be unconstitutional if such events were sponsored and organized by private religious groups, they are unconstitutional if they are dominated by Christians and are sponsored by Congress at public expense.)

In the 1950s they also succeeded in censoring the movie and television industries, and they violated the spirit of the Constitution by demanding the production of Christian movies and television programming. That is no doubt why in the 1950s religious movies were so numerous, such as David and Bathsheba, Quo Vadis, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, The Ten Commandments, The Big Fisherman, and Ben-Hur. And it is why television programming at that time was so bland and innocuous, designed simply to entertain rather than cultivate independent thought or critical thinking. Conformity was the goal, and most Americans complied.

Even today, of course, devout Christians would say there was and is nothing wrong with that, and that is understandable given the Christian traditions that originated in Europe and became entrenched in America due to the King James version of the Christian Bible. However, the issue here is not regarding moral values. The issue is theocratic imposition by members of a particular religion.

Furthermore, what we should be concerned about is not only the misguided demand of Christian Dominionists to establish Theocracy. We should also be concerned about the veracity of Pauline Christian dogma and the resulting theology of Apologetics, because it is what has been used since the fourth century and still is used by Theocrats to justify themselves.

That is why Americans need to be aware of what has happened during the passing age and especially during the last 60 years, and we should be especially aware of what has happened during the last 30 years since the “religious right” rose to political power with Ronald Reagan. For the fact is that theocratic Evangelical Christian Dominionists have been claiming that the U.S.A. was meant to be a Christian nation, and that Christians are the rightful rulers of America.

That is absolutely contrary to the truth, so all Americans need to be reminded of the spirit of the law and the intent of the Founders of America and the Framers of the Constitution. For while the "letter" of the law states in Article 6 that there shall be no religious test or requirement for office, and in the First Amendment states that there shall be no law regarding the establishment of religion, the spirit of the law and the intent of the Framers was made very clear in much of what the Founders and Framers said and wrote in their writings. (See Quotes From the Founders Regarding Religion.)

After all, Thomas Jefferson may have been the greatest champion for religious freedom, but he wasn’t the only one. George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Paine were also among the majority whose concept of religious freedom meant freedom from Theocracy and freedom from Theocrats who insist their religion is superior and gives them the "divine right" to rule.

Why Has the Intent of the Founders Regarding Religion Been Ignored?

Theocratic Christian evangelists believe not only in the Pauline version of Christianity with its theology of Apologetics. They also believe in the theology of Christian Dominionism, which is based on the misguided idea that all nations will ultimately be governed by Christians, and that Christian men are called by God to exercise dominion over secular society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.

That idea is “justified” by a right-wing conservative interpretation of the Pauline version of Christianity, and it exists primarily among right-wing conservative Protestants in America. But, despite their denials, it is an absolute form of Theocracy that violates both the U.S. Constitution and the core teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Unfortunately, their theocratic agenda was created with a focus on certain words and phrases in the Christian Bible that they believe justify them. However, they conveniently ignore the greater amount of evidence in both the Christian New Testament and the Hebrew Tanakh (Old Testament) that reveals the truth. For the Jewish prophets, including Jesus of Nazareth, realized, foresaw and foretold that when prophecy is fulfilled, all nations of earth will honor the God of all nations, whose name cannot be spoken or written.

You see, neither “Jehovah” nor “Yahweh” are the name of God. Christians and especially right-wing conservative Christians fail to understand that the “name” of God was actually written in four Hebrew letters which are commonly transliterated into Latin letters as YHWH. However, the original four letters were written not as a name but as a verb meaning “to be,” and it is better understood as "I exist," or 'I am," and it was even expanded to mean "I am that I am, that which was, is, and will always be."

When Jesus of Nazareth said “I am the truth and the Light,” and “Before Abraham was, I am,” he was speaking as an Avatar, realizing his and our oneness with God. And that is why he also said “God is greater than I,” and “You have not heard God’s voice or seen God’s shape at any time.”

With the exception of John, the authors of most of the texts in the official Pauline Christian church canon (Bible) ignored or did not know those truths. Consequently, being ignorant of such truths, “Christian” Theocrats today are misled by the doctrines of Pauline Christianity, and the theology of Christian Apologetics.

Thus Theocrats today are much like the Theocrats in Thomas Jefferson’s day, which is why he wrote:

They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." -- Thomas Jefferson

That is why Jefferson’s protege James Madison wrote: "What influence, in fact, have religious establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not." – James Madison

If we consider the actual words and actions of the Founders of America, it becomes very clear that the political agenda of the "Fundamentalist Christian Right" and “Christian” Dominionists in America today is not at all compatible with the fundamental ideals of the Founders, nor is it compatible with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or with the obligations of truly democratic government.

History of Theocratic Imposition In America

The Constitution and the intent of the Founders of America and the Framers of the U.S. Constitution regarding religion has been simply ignored, especially since 1823 when the "Christian" "Doctrine of Discovery" was carried over from Europe and adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court to give white European Americans the right to rob “heathen” (Native Americans) of their land.

Some Americans in the next generation who understood the views and intent of the Founders responded, and by 1893 they succeeded in organizing a Parliament of Religions which was held in Chicago.

That was a groundbreaking event and the first of its kind, and leaders from each of the great religions presented their views. This created appreciation for Eastern religions – appreciation that had been passed down from mainstream Western philosophers of the 1700s who were fascinated with Eastern culture, religion, literature and philosophy — including such great philosophers, poets and writers as Arthur Schopenhauer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Baudelaire, William James, Percy Shelley and Walt Whitman, among others

In the 1930s, however, Christian Dominionists began to react and assert themselves, and they sought not only to combat religious pluralism and reject the idea of equality of religions. They also sought to censor the movie industry, and they succeeded. That right-wing conservative "Christian Revival" of the 1930s then continued sporadically throughout the 1940s and then became very aggressive in the 1950s. It had a significant impact on both the movie and television industry, and rigid censorship was imposed on the broadcast and entertainment industry by a very powerful conservative clergy, even though they were in the minority.
That Christian Dominionist movement became aggressive in the 1950s because theocratic evangelist Billy Graham tried to get President Eisenhower to institute an official statement that “America is a Christian nation under God” -- a notion that had been rejected by the Founders and later by Congress, and even later by the U.S. Supreme Court that agreed with the Jeffersonian democratic view.

In the 1950s President Eisenhower was pushed hard not only by Billy Graham but also by other Christian evangelists and proselytizers such as Francis Schaeffer and Abraham Vereide. But Eisenhower held firm in honoring the Founders’ precedent of being generic when referring to God.

Even when the phrase “under God” was inserted into in the pledge of allegiance in 1954 due to pressure by Christian Dominionists, it was a compromise. And actually it merely acknowledged that the Founders had used generic terms like “Nature’s God” and the “Creator” in official documents while avoiding endorsing any particular religion. For Eisenhower fortunately recognized why the Founders understood that we cannot have religious freedom unless all religions are treated as equal by government, showing no favoritism.

Despite that, Billy Graham continued his theocratic efforts. In fact, Graham made a compact with Richard Nixon, secretly endorsed Nixon over John F. Kennedy for president, and he met with a large group of evangelical Christian clergy to coax them to endorse Nixon too. And that, by the way, violated an Internal Revenue Service code that prohibits any tax exempt religious institution from endorsing any political candidate – a code that right-wing preachers often violate.

After that, Graham, Schaeffer and other right-wing evangelists kept pushing, and they eventually politicized and radicalized some influential television evangelists, like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

The result was that in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was campaigning for the presidency he made a pact with Falwell and Robertson, and thus the “Moral Majority” was established and the “religious right” or “Christian Right” was revived and energized to influence  politics and government. And it's only gotten worse since then.

Today the number of Theocrats is much larger, though their blind flocks are still in the distinct minority. But their leaders are, nevertheless, very influential and have had the power to influence and even direct the actions of certain members of Congress and certain members of the Supreme Court. Even today members of the legislative and judicial branches of government are being swayed by aggressive political action by the likes of David Barton, James Dobson, Franklin Graham, Rick Warren, Douglas Coe, Charles Colson, Stuart Epperson and Tim LaHaye, along with many other Theocrats who adamantly claim that Christians must rule according to “divine right.”

The truth, however, is that they strive to revive the man-made theocratic doctrine of Christian superiority and supremacy that actually led to the horribly oppressive Dark Ages, the bloody Crusades, the cruel Inquisitions, and all the religious military industrial imperialism ever since, all in the name of Christianity.

Of course, not all Christian evangelists are theocratic, and some are more theocratic than others. However, the point is that if one actually believes what the Nicene Creed declares, and if one believes in the parts of the official church canon that resulted in the notions expressed in the Nicene Creed, then one is easily led to the erroneous conclusion that Christianity is the only religion founded by “God Himself” and therefore Christianity will ultimately be the world’s religion.

That idea, in fact, is just as erroneous as the idea that Judaism or Islam will ultimately be the world’s religion.

That, as the Founders of America realized, is not going to happen, because it is not what Jesus of Nazareth intended, nor is it what preceding Jewish prophets or any other of the world’s prophets prophesied.

It Is Time For a New Reformation

Benjamin Franklin wrote: "When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."

Thomas Paine wrote: "Soon after I had published the pamphlet, ‘Common Sense’ [on Feb. 14, 1776] in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion."

Paine was way ahead of his time in that vision. However, he understood what most of the Founders understood, that Pauline Christianity as they knew it (which is what we know today as “Christianity”), was flawed in some of its concepts and some of its doctrines. And they understood why Jesus was reported to have said that hypocrites claim to do “many wonderful works in the name of the Lord” when they actually “work iniquity.”

Thomas Jefferson even wrote: “Among the sayings and discourses imputed to [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others, again, of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate, therefore, the gold from the [refuse]; restore him to the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, the roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and imposters, Paul was the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus."

Jefferson was quite right. So it is time for a New Reformation, because the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries did not actually reform Christianity as it needs to be reformed. All it did was create a number of Protestant denominations, all of which retained and maintained the same erroneous doctrines and the Nicene Creed. And the “Divine Right” of Emperors and Popes was perpetuated and adopted as the “Divine Right” of Christian Kings and Queens.

Consequently, the history of atrocities committed in the name of Christianity between the fourth century (when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and the Nicene Creed was written) and 1787 (when the Founders of America finally stood up to Theocrats and prohibited Theocracy) reveals how the erroneous, theocratic, patriarchal doctrine of superiority and supremacy impacted the world.

Furthermore, the state of the nation and the world today reveals the continuing impact that modern American Christian Theocrats have had, especially during the last 30 years – which is why “holy wars” have increased.

That is why we must bring about a New Reformation, not only of Christianity, but of any and all religions that provide “justification” for the so-called “holy wars” which have caused so much unnecessary human suffering, death, and destruction.

For further information, please see the articles from which this article was gleaned, which include the following:

About Christianity

What Is The True Nature of God?

Ignored American History

Why the Religious Right Is Wrong

Quotes From America's Founders Regarding Religion