Does separation of church and state mean separation of religion from politics? The 1st Amendment is often cited as the source for free speech and religious freedom. It simply states, “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.” To understand the intention that men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had when drafting this Amendment, we must first look at the church’s history in England and New England.
History of a State Church
The following is by no means an exhaustive look at the history of state curches, but we’d have to go back even more centuries to expound the topic entirely. Let’s start by looking at the few hundred years that led to the Puritan migration to New England and the formation of the 1st Amendment.
Many believe that in the early 1500s, Henry VIII (the one with many wives) established the independent Church of England when the Pope refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In 1534 Henry VIII pushed the English Parliament to pass the “Act of Supremacy,” which recognized the king as the “Supreme Head of the Church of England.” This act was later repealed but then readopted during Elizabeth I’s reign in 1559. During the 16th century, a group known as the Puritans tried to purify both the Church of England’s structure and practices. Interestingly, these puritans believed that the civil authorities’ duties were to enforce the laws of religion. As many thought the Puritans had gone far enough, in the 17th century, they faced persecution under King James I and his son Charles I. Even though this persecution pushed the Puritans to immigrate to the Americas; they were not religiously tolerant. They still believed in a state church, just with their reforms applied. As more immigrants came to New England, the Puritans were intolerant and opposed these new religious beliefs. This intolerance led the Constitution’s framers to use the 1st Amendment to prohibit a national religious establishment that once existed in the original colonies.
Actions Only & Not Opinions
The original intention of the 1st Amendment was to prevent the intolerance of people based on their religious beliefs by not allowing the government to define an established national religion. However, the Amendment does not prevent individuals from using their religious beliefs to influence their policies. In the United States of America, any person, regardless of religious opinion, can influence policy so long as that policy doesn’t prohibit the “free exercise” of religion. Thomas Jefferson wrote his thoughts on the matter in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. He wrote,
Many today use the “separation of church and state” as an argument for dismissing a Biblical worldview from our government and their controlled institutions. While a Supreme Court Judge is accountable for interpreting the law as written, a Legislator is responsible for representing the people who elected them with their views and policies presented during their election campaign. There is certainly room within the legislative and executive branches of government for a Biblical worldview to influence policy. I would argue that the inclusion of a Biblical worldview is beneficial for the people; it’s also vital to a nation’s success.
How Christian Values benefit a culture
While Christian faith shouldn’t be forced upon people through legislation, the benefits from Christians representing a Biblical worldview within politics are beneficial for all people. Unfortunately, Christians often do themselves and those around them a disservice by their demeaning and hypocritical actions. Christians must remember that all people have sinned and fallen short of what God demands. However, the Bible doesn’t just show what God opposes; it also shows what God proposes. Many people only hear about what God is against; they never hear what God has proposed for life to work best. The Bible presents solutions to family problems, racism, violence, and the treatment of all people.
It’s important to know what God opposes and what God proposes. Christians often fall short here, and I can be guilty of this too. We are quick to say what God opposes, but we miss following it up with what God proposes. For example, when it comes to abortion, God opposes it. But what does God propose? God proposes that a man leaves his father and mother and be joined to his wife as one flesh. The Bible proposes abstinence, that sex is to be between a husband and wife. Why? Because God who created us knows the consequences of these actions. Destroyed lives and broken families lead to physical, mental, social, and economic devastation. In our society, abortion is an issue because we’ve walked away from how God designed us to work best as a husband and wife together. One man and one woman joined together in a commitment before God. A Christian should be opposed to abortion, but promote strong marriages, reinforce the value of family as God intended it. When these are broken, we need to be loving and seek restoration. We can’t look to legislation to cure the problem of sin. Nevertheless, legislation can protect the dignity of human life, whether that is an unborn child or a biologically male or female created in God’s image as well as the sanctity of marriage as God designed it.
I believe Christians must influence our country’s laws because of the benefit the country receives by doing life God’s way. We take the freedoms we have in this country for granted, and if we have an opportunity to defend them, we should seek that. Just as the Lord said to Israel through Jeremiah when they were in exile in Babylon, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”