The phrase “separation of church and state” cannot be found in the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. In fact, it is not found in any of our nation’s founding documents. Related to government, the phrase first appeared in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut in 1801.
Jefferson had worked very hard to separate the Anglican Church from the government in his home state of Virginia so that all other denominations could practice their faith without government penalty or persecution. Jefferson contributed to ending government-run religion in his state, so when he became president of the United States, the baptists and those from other denominations were his strong supporters because he had fought for their freedom of religion and for their right to be free from state control in matters of faith.
The Danbury Baptists wrote Thomas Jefferson expressing their concern that the government might try to regulate their religious expression. In response, Jefferson wrote his now famous letter, using the phrase “separation of church and state,” to reassure the Danbury baptists that the First Amendment prohibited the government from trying to control religious expression. In short, the First Amendment was intended to keep government out of regulating religion, but it did not keep religion out of government or the public square.
Today, people believe that “separation of church and state” is in the First Amendment of the Constitution. However, the phrase appears nowhere in that amendment or in the Constitution. Our government does not promote a religion. Yet there are groups today who want to eliminate any reference to God from off our currency and Pledge of Allegiance. A student of U.S. history will discover our rich heritage of reverence to God even by those who did not practice a religious faith. A trip to Washington, D.C., will show the religious symbols found in buildings and monuments which should cause the patriotic American to gain a fresh appreciation for the role of religion in the public square.
David Vivas Jr. is the pastor at World Harvest International Church in Delano.