Church and State


"... Madison's explanation that separation of church and state was the only way to avoid "ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries" (D.D. Guttenplan. "Continental Drift." The Nation, April 4, 2005: 28-33).


“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute" (President John F. Kennedy).


"It is hard to believe that George W. Bush has ever read the works of George Orwell, but he seems, somehow, to have grasped a few Orwellian precepts. The lesson the President has learned best--and certainly the one that has been the most useful to him--is the axiom that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. One of his Administration's current favorites is the whopper about America having been founded on Christian principles. Our nation was founded not on Christian principles but on Enlightenment ones...

"Our constitution makes no mention whatever of God. The omission was too obvious to have been anything but deliberate...

"In the eighty-five essays that make up The Federalist, God is mentioned only twice (both times by Madison, who uses the word, as Gore Vidal has remarked, in the "only heaven knows" sense). In the Declaration of Independence, He gets two brief nods: a reference to "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God," and the famous line about men being "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." More blatant official references to a deity date from long after the founding period: "In God We Trust" did not appear on our coinage until the Civil War, and "under God" was introduced into the Pledge of Allegiance during the McCarthy hysteria in 1954...

"IN 1797 our government concluded a "Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, or Barbary," now known simply as the Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11 of the treaqty contains these words:

"As the Government of the United States... is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion--as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquillity of Musselmen--and as the said State never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

"This document was endorsed by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and President John Adams. It was then sent to the Senate for ratification; the vote was unanimous. It is worth pointing out that although this was the 339th time a recorded vote had been required by the Senate, it was only the third unanimous vote in the Senate's history. There is no record of debate or dissent...

The Founding Fathers were not religious men, and they fought hard to erect, in Thomas Jefferson's words, "a wall of separation between church and state."...

"...the key Founding Fathers were not Christians at all. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine were deists... [as were] John Adams... George Washington and James Madison...

"Madison believed that "religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize." He spoke of the "almost fifteen centuries" during which Christianity had been on trial: "What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution"...

"Tom Paine [was a] deist in the tradition of Voltaire... The Age of Reason, his virulent attack on Christianity. In it he railed against the "obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness" of the Old Testament, "a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind." The New Testament is less brutalizing but more absurd... a "fable"...

"...the Machiavellian principle that if one aspires to influence the masses, one must at least profess religious sentiments... "A man compounded of law and gospel is able to cheat a whole country with his religion and then destroy them under color of law"...

"...Jefferson... the Revelation of St. John he dismissed as "the ravings of a maniac."... [Jefferson] was a secular humanist... note his respect... for the sensibilities of the "infidel"...

"John Adams... "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!"...

"Like Jefferson, every recent President has understood the necessity of at least paying lip service to the piety of most American voters... But there is a difference between offering this gesture of respect for majority beliefs and manipulating and pandering to the bigotry, prejudice and millennial fantasies of Christian extremists" (Brooke Allen. "Our Godless Constitution." The Nation, Feb. 21, 2005: 14-20).


“Christianity persecuted, tortured, and burned. Like a hound it tracked the very scent of heresy. It kindled wars, and nursed furious hatreds and ambitions. It sanctified, quite like Mohammedanism, extermination and tyranny. . .” (George Santayana)


"In Europe state support of Christianity has alienated muslims from society. Can it happen here?

"As political and religious leaders in this country challenge the longstanding separation between church and state, Americans need only look to Europe, with its anxieties about homegrown Muslim terrorists, for a wake-up call. The European experience teaches that there is no way for government to favor religion in general; it will favor specific expression of religion, invariably Christian, and thereby push others aside. In the contemporary and globalized world, where the United States and Western Europe provide new homes to millions of immigrants from all over the world, breaching the wall between religions and government runs great risks.

"Yet that appears to be the direction in which we [the US] are heading...

"In Europe we can see the dangers of the interpenetration of church and state. As secular as Europeans are, their societies have deeply institutionalized religious identities, which are the result of historic settlements after centuries of religious conflict. In France, where laïa;citè, the exclusion of religion from the affairs of state, is the official ideology, the state in fact owns and maintains most Christian churches and allows them to be used for regular religious services. The same law that establishes state possession of religous edifices also prevents the state from building new ones, thus keeping the country's 4-5 million Muslims from enjoying the same privileges as Christians. Most French mosques are, as a consequence, ad hoc structures, not very different from storefront churches. Adding to the religious divide is that half the country's ten or so state-designated national holidays are Catholic in origin; no Muslim holiday has equivalent recognition.

"In Britain and France the state provides financial support for religious schools as long as they teach the national secular curriculum. Inevitably, these arrangements, while seemingly fair to all religions, favor the most established ones. In Britain (where, incidentally, senior Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords by right as part of the Anglican "establishment") the government funds nearly 7,000 Church of England and Catholic schools but only five Islamic schools in a nation of 1.6 million Muslims. In the Netherlands the majority of children go to state-supported religious schools, nearly all Protestant and Catholic, while the country's estimated 1 million Muslims have only about thirty-five of their own publicly funded primary schools.

"The institutionalization of Christianity in Europe has played a role in the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, for it adds substantially to the barriers confronting second-generation Muslims trying to make their place in European societies. Young people born and raised in the West are not satisfied with the humble positions of their immigrant parents. Yet at the same time, because of the burdens of lower-class origins and racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, the children of Muslim immigrants generally do not have the same opportunities for educational and professional achievement as do those from the European majorities. This situation leads many to resort to Islam as a way of claiming dignity.

"The lessons of Europe's difficulties in integrating its Muslim population are clear. The US legacy of church-state separation has contributed mightily to our success in converting the children of immigrants into patriotic Americans. This is hardly the moment to abandon it" (Richard Alba and Nancy Foner. "Can It Happen Here?" The Nation, Oct. 17, 2005: 20-22).


"The nexus of evangelical Christianity and Republican politics is a force that is transforming the US, and not for the better.

"As someone who firmly believes that church and state should be separate entities, I find it disgusting that GOP, in the minds of some Republicans, now stands for God's Own Party...

"But the biggest question I have regarding Christian Republicans is, how does one claim to be a good Christian and still follow a political party that is very selective about which parts of the Bible it follows? The answer might be found in a recently-released documentary, Theologians Under Hitler, produced by Methodist Pastor Steven Martin. It will be aired on public television in the coming weeks...

"It looks at three prominent German Protestand theologians--Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emmanuel Hirsch--and how their writings were used to legitimize the Nazi Party during its rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s...

"This is history worth discussing. To talk about how German churches helped Hitler come to power, you have to talk about how church and state became one in Germany.

"In the aftermath of World War I, when Germany was a beaten, exhausted nation, a new vision of Christianity started to emerge. It was a vision that championed a nationalist agenda. The idea of the resurrection of Germany merged with the image of the resurrection of Christ. It was a seductive image, especially when one considers the depth of Christian faith in Germany and its attractiveness as a antidote to a chaotic modern world.

"The German Christian movement was the result. The Nazi swasticka started to appear on church altars. The idea of volk espoused by Hirsch--a united, racially pure Germany--tapped into the long-simmering anti-semitism of Germans. It didn't take much of a leap to equate the elimination of the Jews with the fulfillment of God's plan.

"What made it possible was theologians such as Kittel, who advocated for a Christianity divorced from its Jewish roots, or Althaus, who linked Hirsch's volk and Hitler's ideas together in his writings. Given the respect that people have for church leaders, having people like Kittel, Althaus and Hirsch supporting Hitler made Nazism respectable...

"...the combination of church and state perverts both church and state...

"That's why the Founding Fathers made sure separation of church and state was put into the Constitution. They had enough knowledge of the religious extremists of their era to know that no faith or religious sect should be allowed to dominate a free people...

"Too many liberals don't take the prospect of a fundamentalist theocracy seriously, or think that the Christian Right and its followers can be reasoned with. Reason is an impossibility when dealing with people who openly seek your destruction in the name of the God they believe in" (Randolph Holhut. "Taking Theocrats Seriously." The Progressive Populist, Dec. 15, 2005: 2, 20).


“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 prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” -- President Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, January 1, 1802


"...moral, including religious, values are "best protected by a deep ethical commitment to the secular state." "Legislators need to be asking what the people want and not what God wants."" (Letters. The Nation, June 12, 2006: 2).


Colby Glass, MLIS