Separation of Church and State
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia (which the First Amendment is partially based), wrote that the First Amendment erected a “wall of separation between church and state.”
Later, quoting himself from an earlier letter, he would write:
“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”
James Madison, sometimes called the “Father of the Constitution” and the “Architect of the Bill of Rights,” hoped that by doing so, the United States might free itself from the ceaseless strife that had soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.
Madison, who was also primarily responsible for pushing the Bill of Rights through Congress, expressed his interpretation of the First Amendment as a “perfect” separation – between Church and State, commenting that:
“The civil government … functions with complete success … by the total separation of the Church from the State,” and “I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”
It was Madison who also warned:
“Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.”
He was evidently right to be worried.
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