By: Mary Salamon
f you are a person of faith and a student of civics, you have heard people tell you that you’re not allowed to practice your faith in schools, city and state government and the public square. Why? Because the Constitution says there is a separation of Church and State. People of faith cannot make decisions or raise questions about laws, guidelines and rules, especially, if they are using the bible or other religious documents to state their arguments. Religious study, the bible, and prayer are not allowed in public schools and many Christian monuments and symbols have been removed. In our country, the use of “Separation of Church and State” is ingrained in the culture today. Untold thousands believe that this is in the Constitution, but it is nowhere to be found. It is a twisted distortion of a quotation of one of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson.
Let’s take a trip back and dip into a little history on the subject of “Separation of Church and State.” It’s important to understand this issue of separation didn’t begin with Thomas Jefferson in the United States.
The separation of Church and State started with God Himself. If you are privileged to own a Founders Bible, you would have read page 683 where David Barton writes, “When God established civil government for His people Israel, He placed Moses over the civil affairs and Aaron over the spiritual ones-the nation was one, but the jurisdictions were two, with separate leaders over each. The account of King Uzziah of Judah in 2 Chronicles 26 provides a lucid illustration of how God insisted that the two jurisdictions be kept separate. Uzziah’s reign lasted fifty-two years. Prosperity and stability characterized his civil rulership; his agricultural and animal husbandry programs were legendary; his national defense program was unrivaled… His fame spread across the civilized world; his personal piety toward God was also well known, and he openly and boldly honored God throughout his kingdom. According to the Scriptures, all of this was highly commendable, but then a dramatic change occurred. The turning point is recorded in verse 16, with the revealing statement that Uzziah “entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.” As a civil ruler over the kingdom, he decided that he would also take unto himself the function of a priest by burning incense on the altar; but that duty had been strictly reserved by God for His priests. Uzziah, by trying to perform the responsibilities of both Church and State and become the head in each, had thus crossed a line drawn by God Himself. Understanding this violation, the priests courageously and forcefully withstood him (v.18), but Uzziah refused to listen and became enraged at them. He seized their sacred utensils and prepared to make use of them when God weighed in: He instantly struck Uzziah with leprosy, who fled the temple in horror and humiliation. Significantly, it had been acceptable for Uzziah to honor God in his kingdom, and it had been acceptable for Uzziah to enter the temple to worship God. But when Uzziah attempted to violate the jurisdictional separation between State and Church-when he sought to be in charge of both the civil and religious arenas at the same time-God provided a dramatic precedent as a message of warning to all future generations.” 2Chronicles 26
God Himself separated the Civil from the Priesthood. Separation of Church and state is from the heart of God. Civil servants and civil authority have an anointing and calling from God, as well as Church servants and leaders and both are ordained and created by the Lord’s wisdom and authority.
As time went on, national leaders lusted for power and control and began to mingle the two together. This brought a dilution of spiritual power and holiness in the Church. One of the most blatant examples was King Henry VIII when he separated from the catholic church because the pope would not grant him a divorce, so he could remarry. Instead of honoring the church rules of his time, he started his own church called the Anglican Church. This new church was a combination of state and church and Henry gave himself a divorce under this new spiritual jurisdiction.
His daughter Elizabeth followed her father’s governmental ways and became the head of the state and the church, but she was more lenient toward the Protestant movement than her father in the beginning of her reign. The state was fully in charge of the church. This church was called the Church of England. According to David Barton, “The church existed by permission of the civil government. If you lived or were born within a certain radius of a Church of England, you were automatically a member from birth to death and billed or tithed accordingly. This was to be the only church supported by taxpayers. The government-controlled the church and the church controlled the people.” Amid this controlled religious state, a movement of true believers was rising up. With access to the bible, these believers realized that God established the church and made a covenant with the members of His body. They realized how corrupt the state church was and knew it needed to be reformed. The true believers became part of a movement called the Reformation. From this movement came the Puritan movement which spawned another group called the Separatists. The Separatists believed in the separation of the church from the state. Here again, the separation came from the Lord’s people and not the state. A prominent Revered named John Greenwood led a church of many of the Pilgrims. Greenwood argued that there could be but one head to the Church and that its head was not the queen, but Christ. He was executed for his stand. Laws were passed after this incident punishing those who called for separation. Many left England for religious freedom. Once they arrived on American soil, they purposed in their hearts that the civil government would never rule in the life of the church again. The pilgrims even started their own civil code of conduct called the Mayflower Compact. Through the years, different churches and religions sprouted up all through the colonies. The common thread with all of them was that the government would never have the power to rule in their churches or their forms of worship.
When the Constitution of the United States was written, in the first amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This was designed to prohibit the State from interfering or suppressing the religious expression of citizens in private or public. Thomas Jefferson understood this and agreed. He received a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association with concerns about the government trying to regulate them in the future. Jefferson reassured the Baptist Association with these words. “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 reach actions only and not government 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” [the First Amendment], thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
This was a response to a letter from Jefferson confirming that there is a wall and that wall protects the church. That wall keeps the government out of the church, not the church out of the government.
Mary Salamon is the author of Government and Its People- How the Church can Participate in Government. She speaks and teaches about the importance of the Church engaging the culture and government. She resides in the Pacific Northwest. She served as the Washington State Leader for the Governors Prayer Team and is currently the Church-Liaison for Conservative Ladies of Washington State. She is the mother of three sons and seven beautiful grandchildren. She is available for speaking engagements at local civic events, churches, and conferences.