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The Church And State Essay Sample

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The Church And State Essay Sample

According to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, “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 the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The first part encompasses what is referred to as the “establishment clause,” which was written to the Federal Constitution in December, 1789 and ratified by the States in 1791.[1] This provision not only prohibits the government from establishing or supporting a particular denomination or religion as official, but also prohibits excessive entanglement with religion, such as being directly or impliedly connected with church or religious matters.

The establishment of this provision began when the Anglican Church was established by King James I.  The king held that the Anglican Church was to have legal priority over all denominations and that it was to be known as the Church of England. When the King established the official church of the state, he also established a policy of persecuting separatists.[2] This led the separatists to flee to Holland and many of settled in Leiden and thereafter drafted the Baptist Confession of 1612 to distinguish themselves from the rest of the other Baptists.[3] This group was later to become known as the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock in 1620.[4] In the Baptist of Confession that was drafted by the Pilgrims, the first public claim for religious freedom can be found:

Article 84: “That the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force or compel men to this or that form of religion, or doctrine: but to leave the Christian religion free, to every man’s conscience, and to handle only civil transgressions (Rom. xiii), injuries and wrongs of man against man, in murder, adultery, theft, etc., for Christ only is the king, and lawgiver of the church and conscience.[5]

However there were certain sects who did not agree with this; the Puritans did not share the same view espoused by the Pilgrims. This was due to their fears that the Crown would eventually embrace Catholicism as the state religion.[6] A different view therefore evolved, one that “defined religious freedom as their mandate to preserve Puritan ideals, and saw an alliance between religion and government as a way to maintain this purity,”[7] which lead to a persecution of separatists.

In the 1600s and 1700, the Puritans, Pilgrims and the Catholics, among others, immigrated to the New World. While most of them did not believe in religious toleration and intended to set up a theocratic state, certain exceptions like Roger Williams of Rhode Island or the Roman Catholic Lord Baltimore in Maryland had vowed to set up a theocratic state.[8]  The Puritans continued with their practice of persecution, however, colonies such as Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, became havens for the practice of any religion, as they were all founded by immigrants who were persecuted for their beliefs by the Puritans upon their arrival in the New World.[9]

               In the 18th century, Baptist separatists started rebelling and voicing out objections against the entanglement between political and religious groups.  This led to the formation of new separatist groups, as the dissentist culture propagated and were granted great freedom and tolerance within their communities.  Over time, public protest grew over the fact that the Anglicans were receiving a greater share of the tax exemptions and government benefits.  This led the public to take issue against the exclusive provision of public funds to any single religious group.[10]

In Virginia, the Anglican Church was disestablished after the American Revolution. Many debates arose as to the taxing of the citizens for the support of religion. It was Thomas Jefferson who then drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1779. It was James Madison, however, who secured its adoption in 1786.[11]

In June, 1785, a bill was sponsored by Patrick Henry which proposed that a tax be placed all Virginians for the nondiscriminatory support of religion, with each taxpayer given the right to designate the church to which his tax contribution would be applied, while the taxes of the nonreligious would be used to support secular education.[12] James Madison opposed this bill in his letter titled, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments.” Speaking about religion, he stated that:

“In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries.

A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not. Such a Government will be best supported by protecting every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.”[13]

Thereafter, the Bill of Rights was adopted. However, many separatists remained dubious that on October 7, 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut sent a letter to President Thomas Jefferson and stated their concern that the “religious privileges they enjoy, they enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights.” In his reply to this letter, Jefferson wrote that:

            “…I contemplate with solemn 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…”[14]

            It was then that the policy of the state to maintain a delineation or separation of the church and the state was made clear to the public.

Isaac Backus, John Leland and Roger Williams were among the several supporters who strongly believed that the integrity of the state could be maintained only with the separation of the church and the state.

The Supreme Court of United States had the occasion to elaborate on the meaning of the establishment clause. In the land mark case of Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Tp decided in 1947, it was declared by the Supreme Court of the United States that:

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever from they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State’.”[15] 

            This ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States has then gone on to be cited in many other “establishment” cases that have sprung up, which include state funding for sectarian schools, government intervention in teaching programs for religious schools and the like.


Robinson, B.A.“Introduction to the Principle of Separation of Church and State.” available from

http://www.religioustolerance.org/scs_intr.htm; accessed November 4, 2006.

Goldseth, M., “Separation of Church & State – Tyranny or Liberty?” September 26, 2006,

available from http://www.watchblog.com/thirdparty/archives/004244.html. Internet: accessed November 4, 2006.

Gaustad, E.S. “Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation.” Harper & Row, New York

NY: 1987.

“Separation of Church State.” in Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia: 2006. Available from

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_church_and_state. Internet: accessed November 4, 2006.

Leonard, Mary. “Religion and Politics: Christian soldiers march onward – and wayward. Boston

Globe, Boston, Ma, March 7, 1999.

Larue, Gerald. “Separation of Church and State: A Most Important Decision.” University of

Southern California: 2002. available from

http://www.teachingaboutreligion.org/WhitePapers/separation_church_state.htm. Internet: accessed November 4, 2006

Madison, James. “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments.” Available from

http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/sacred/madison_m&r_1785.html. Internet accessed November 4, 2006.

 Lipscomb, A.A. & Bergh, A.E.. Eds. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Vol. 16. Washington:                1907.

“Backgrounder on the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.” available from

http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/42. Internet: accessed November 4, 2006.

[1] B.A. Robinson, “Introduction to the Principle of Separation of Church and State,” available from http://www.religioustolerance.org/scs_intr.htm; accessed November 4, 2006.

[2] Goldseth, M., “Separation of Church & State – Tyranny or Liberty?” September 26, 2006, available from http://www.watchblog.com/thirdparty/archives/004244.html, accessed November 4, 2006.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] E.S. Gaustad, “Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation” (Harper & Row, New York, NY, 1987), 332.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Separation of Church State,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (2006) available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_church_and_state; accessed November 4, 2006.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Mary Leonard, Religion and Politics: Christian soldiers march onward – and wayward, Boston Globe, Boston Ma, March 7, 1999.

[11] “Backgrounder on the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom,” available from http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/42.

[12] Gerald A. Larue, “Separation of Church and State: A Most Important Decision” (University of Southern California, 2002) available from http://www.teachingaboutreligion.org/WhitePapers/separation_church_state.htm; accessed November 4, 2006.

[13] James Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” available from http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/sacred/madison_m&r_1785.html; accessed November 4, 2006.

        [14] A.A. Lipscomb & A.E. Bergh, editors, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 16, (Washington, 1907), p. 281.

[15] 330 U.S. 1 (1947).

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