“The Separation of Church and State.” We hear that phrase used on an almost daily basis. Especially when someone is offended by a Christian symbol, or prayers, in a place “they” deem inappropriate. Like government properties. Or public schools. However, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, I don’t think it means what you think it means.
“But it’s in the Constitution,” you argue.
Well…. I double-dog dare you to find it in the Constitution. Go ahead. Go look. Take your time. I’ll wait.
So? Did you find it? No? Color me surprised.
For those who don’t have time to look it up, here’s the amendment in question:
- Amendment 1 – Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression.
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.
It says nothing about avoiding any mention of Christian symbols on government property. What it does say is the government can’t force you to join a religion. Nor can the government create a national religion.
So where did the phrase come from? A letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists Association in 1802. They had written him, expressing concern the Constitution did not reach the state level. He wrote back to reassure them their religious freedom would be protected. He promised that no religious majority would be able to force out a State’s official church. The original text says, “…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.”
See? It has nothing to do with the government not allowing religious symbols on government properties. It has nothing to do with prayer in school. So what do you say we quit having hissy fits if somebody deigns to erect a cross in front of a courthouse? You want to add a religious symbol from your religion? Go ahead! I don’t mind.