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The phrase "separation of church and state" is derived from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to a group identifying themselves as the Danbury Baptists. In that letter, referencing the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, Jefferson writes:
"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 & State."
Another early user of the term was James Madison, the principal drafter of the United States Bill of Rights, who often wrote of "total separation of the church from the state." "Strongly guarded . . . is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States," Madison wrote, and he declared, "practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government is essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States." This attitude is further reflected in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, originally authored by Thomas Jefferson, but championed by Madison, and guaranteeing that no one may be compelled to finance any religion or denomination.
... no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
Another formal plea for separation of church and state in England, called Religious Peace: or, a Plea for Liberty of Conscience. was written to King James by a London citizen named Leonard Busher, a man later identified as an Anabaptist. In 1868, the renowned Baptist pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon perhaps best summed up the separationist Baptist stand thusly:
Which shall we wonder at most, the endurance of the faithful or the cruelty of their tormentors? Is it not proven beyond all dispute that there is no limit to the enormities which men will commit when they are once persuaded that they are keepers of other men's consciences? To spread religion by any means, and to crush heresy by all means is the practical inference from the doctrine that one man may control another's religion. Given the duty of a state to foster some one form of faith, and by the sure inductions of our nature slowly but certainly persecution will occur. To prevent for ever the possibility of Papists roasting Protestants, Anglicans hanging Romish priests, and Puritans flogging Quakers, let every form of state-churchism be utterly abolished, and the remembrance of the long curse which it has cast upon the world be blotted out for ever.
a poem by thepoetryman
It is with slow strangling
that tongues wag of gods.
And that floods come their raging,
tumbling between valleys,
seizing what’s in font of them
and not what’s prepared to go.
Each tongue’s a star.
Behold the light
quaking against the teeth.
Behind them whirl grand dreams;
tiny gods treading the water,
holding tight to hovering rooftops,
seeing familiar parchment drown
next to a child’s stuffed animal,
its tiny eyes wet with grief
knowing it will float,
drift out to some sea
into a far-off port
worshipped by a child
wrapped in chains.
© 2007 mrp/thepoetryman
Separation – Good for Government…Good for Religion
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