Almost everyone in our nation has heard the phrase “separation of Church and State” and have been led to believe that this term is found in either the Constitution of the United States, in the Bill of Rights, or some other founding document.
In fact, the words “separation of Church and State” were written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Church in 1802 where he attempted to assure that denomination that the United States had no intention of establishing a national church that would be imposed upon all the people of the U.S. He indicated that there was a “wall” in our Constitution which prohibited our government from doing that.
Two days after writing that letter, Thomas Jefferson rode his horse down Pennsylvania Avenue to attend worship services which were being held in the House of Representatives chamber. The House hosted several different denominational churches in their chamber for nearly 70 years, until the mid-1860’s. In fact, while he was President, Jefferson loaned the Treasury building to be a church every Sunday because there were not sufficient buildings for houses of worship in Washington D.C.
Jefferson also signed legislation that gave land to Indian missionaries, put chaplains on the government payroll, and provided for the punishment of irreverent soldiers. He also sent Congress an Indian treaty that set aside money for a priest’s salary and for the construction of a church.
I wonder what the ACLU would say about Thomas Jefferson if he did that today?
Additionally, the early Congress contained an extraordinary number of deeply religious men. They appointed chaplains for the House and Senate and for the armed forces, sponsored the publication of a Bible, and imposed Christian morality on the military. The first national government of the U.S. was convinced that the “public prosperity” of a society depended on the vitality of its religion. Nothing less than a “spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens,” Congress declared to the American people, would “make us a holy, that so we may be a happy people.”