Misunderstandings of the First Amendment
In the year 1947, two momentous things happened. First, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, which showed how faithfully the Bible had been copied and transmitted over the centuries.
The second event of 1947 was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court, which I mentioned in an earlier posting. In the case Everson v. Board of Education the court reversed over 150 years of Supreme Court precedent. In that and subsequent cases, the Court radically changed the intent of the First Amendment as it had been understood since it was ratified.
Since 1947, most Supreme Court decisions involving religion have now been based on Everson and succeeding cases, not on the original intent or the first 150 years of court precedent. Because of this, there has evolved tremendous misconceptions and misinformation concerning the First Amendment, so that’s why I’m providing this information. For example, today most people think the words “church,” “state” and “separation” are in the Constitution – they are not, as we read in an earlier posting. Today, most people believe the phrase “wall of separation” is in the Constitution – it is not.
Wall of Separation
Where, then, did that famous term “wall of separation” come from? While Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States, the Danbury Baptist Association wrote him a letter. They were concerned about how the First Amendment might affect churches and the free exercise of religion, especially small and relatively new denominations. In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson wrote the following response to the Danbury Baptists to assure them that the intent of the First Amendment was to protect them.
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence ... a wall of separation between church and state.” (emphasis mine)
Read in context, we see that Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation” was a protective wall, preventing government from interfering with the free practice of religion. The Wall is to keep government out of religion, not to keep religion out of society.
Since 1947, two things have happened regarding the “Wall of Separation” between Church and state. First, Jefferson’s letter has been totally misinterpreted so that his Wall is now being used as a barrier to keep any mention of God out of our society. The ACLU and others are spending large amounts of money trying to make this country cleansed of God.
Second, this misinterpretation of Jefferson’s letter now has the force of law, since it is constantly invoked with more weight than even the Constitution itself. This is the only time in history that a private letter from a President has essentially become law, and it is a misinterpretation of the letter at that! Rather than using the papers written by the framers of the Constitution and early court decisions, the courts today use this letter, wrongly understood, as their guide.