JEFFERSON'S VIEWS ON THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
> I am particularly interested in Jefferson's strong sense of > separation of Church and State. I just read in the news that the > recently deceased Cardinal John O'Connor of the New York Diocese was > a big supporter of the the US war effort in Vietnam, Chief Chaplain > of the Navy or the US (forgot which), and appointed a Rear Admiral in > the US Navy. After that he was appointed by the Pope to be Cardinal > of NY. I wonder what Jefferson would have thought of that? > > During Jefferson's tenure as President, were there religious > Chaplains in the US armed forces? were there devisive issues like > school prayer, Church leaders urging the criminalization of abortion, > and Clergymen delivering sectarian prayers before City Council's, > Congress, etc? Did Church buildings pay taxes? > I you know, I would be interested. Thanks once again for your > extraordinarily educational web site. The questions you ask on church and state raise very interesting points. The relationship between church and state has evolved in a way that was probably beyond the imagination of our founding fathers. They dealt with the invasion of sectarian religion into secular government at a much more basic level. Nevertheless, I believe that the principles they laid down are still applicable today. 200 years ago, there were state churches endorsed by the state, with ministers whose salaries were paid by the state out of taxes collected from EVERYONE, whether actual members of the church or not! Rather than PAYING taxes, churches RECEIVED tax money! Can you imagine being a member of one church and being forced to pay for the support of another one? In our time, the churches have devised creative ways of getting around such prohibitions against established religion by trying to get the institutions of the state to incorporate religious teachings into the secular educational programs of the state public schools with such things as school prayer, the teaching of Creationism, etc., and by trying to pass laws that reflect beliefs founded in religion, such as those against abortion. It's as if the churchs have said, "If you won't support us with money, we'll make you become an agency of the church and spread our influence in that way." I am not as familiar with the history of the times as I am with Jefferson's writings, therefore I cannot answer with certainty concerning chaplains in the armed services (militia) and prayers by chaplains at government meetings. Jefferson did disapprove of citizens being given a lecture on government from the pulpit, but mainly because he felt church ministers were not qualified to make such pronouncements. It is difficult to answer particular questions, but in general Jefferson definitely did support a separation between church and state and would probably approve the removal of a church's tax exempt status if that church had the effrontery to campaign for one particular political party from the pulpit.
> With respect to Clergymen speaking about politics from the pulpit, it is not > only a question of their competency but a pretty clear influence on votes, and > therefore governmental affairs. The pressure on the Clergy to support popular > governmental policies of the day, from the members of the Church is nevertheless > probably quite irresistible. Lincoln I think mentioned that the Churches of the > North and the Churches of the South said that each was fighting a just war, thus > helping to polarize opinions and maybe make the Civil War even more terrible. > There is also a question of freedom of speech of the Clergy. When we move away from such obvious things as the state supporting the churches with tax money into more subtle things like the church using the state to propagate its own dogmas and beliefs, the question of separation of church and state becomes much more complicated and the line becomes increasingly difficult to draw. Surely a church minister can instruct his congregation on any moral question he wishes, and in that way INDIRECTLY influence the members in their decisions affecting government. It is when the minister directly tells the congregation how they should vote at the polls, especially on specific candidates, that he has violated the separation of church and state. Nevertheless, churches often appear to cross that line, and some religious-inspired organizations deliberately take a political stance (though they claim they are not religious), such as the Christian Coalition. I think they often violate the spirit of the consitutional separation, if not the letter of the law. But I suppose it is inevitable that there will always be that "tug of war" between the church and the state over that dividing line in a free society.
> After reading the material from your web site, I now think that prayer in public > school, and teaching Creationism in public schools, are a much more fundamental > violation of the children's civil rights than I had thought before. when I went > to school there was prayer every morning, and I thought nothing of it, because, > not coincidentally my public schools failed to teach these elements of American > history. I wish the schools spent that time teaching about Jefferson's ideas of > inalienable rights instead of reciting sectarian prayers every morning.. I agree, though I hesitate to take a stand because I might be thought biased. There is an attempt to dispose of Jefferson and his ideas, but I honestly feel that they just might be the basis for a renewal of our political culture. He had a vision of man, his rights, his responsibilities, and his potential, that we abandon at our peril. We desperately need the guidance he can give.
Table of Contents