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July 19, 2007

...And the Walls Came Tumblin' Down

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Danbury Baptists, attempting to clarify the roles of government and organized religion in the new United States, Jefferson wrote this:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not 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," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

Taken out of context, the "wall of separation" line has been misused over the generations. And the context is not just the letter Jefferson wrote, but it is a specific answer to a specific question from the Baptsts. Here is their concern, with emphasis added:
But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter, together with the laws made coincident therewith, were adapted as the basis of our government at the time of our revolution. And such has been our laws and usages, and such still are, [so] that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation, and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. And these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgments, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore, if those who seek after power and gain, under the pretense of government and Religion, should reproach their fellow men, [or] should reproach their Chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dares not, assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.

The Baptists were concerned specifically about the government imposing laws on religion that would tell them what to do with regards to their beliefs and the practice of them. Jefferson said government would not do that.

There could be no real question as to whether or not religion could have an effect on the government, since a chaplain and an opening prayer were part of Congress from the beginning. Jefferson himself used government money for the express purpose of evangelizing the American Indians. This from the man who wrote about a wall? By his words and his deeds, and in the full context of his words, it is clear that the wall he spoke of was one erected around religion to protect it and its followers from government intrusion, but the reverse situation was not addressed but, in fact, encouraged to a point.

I say this as a prelude to this news story coming from the BBC about an event in England that could occur here in the near future.

A gay man has won his case for unlawful discrimination after he was refused a youth official's job by a Church of England bishop.

The employment tribunal said John Reaney, 42, was discriminated against "on grounds of sexual orientation" by the Hereford diocesan board of finance.

And what law was broken?
Under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, it is illegal to discriminate against people as a result of their sexual orientation, but the law does contain an exemption for organised religion.

The Church of England has a position on the moral status of homosexuality. It is based on their religious beliefs. But today in England, not even the established church is allowed to act on its beliefs if the government has said otherwise. That "exemption for organised religion" isn't worth the paper it's written on.

This is the beginning of the end of religious freedom, when the government becomes the new arbiter of religious practice. And if you don't think it could happen here, then you're likely in for a surprise when the walls come tumblin' down.

Hat tip: Go, Pundit, Go!

Posted by Doug at July 19, 2007 04:53 PM

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Have you seen the Jefferson Bible?

Jefferson wished to extract the doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by the Four Evangelists.[1] In essence, Thomas Jefferson did not believe in Jesus' divinity, the Trinity, resurrection, miracles, or any other supernatural aspect described in the Bible.[2] - Wiki

Posted by: Cineaste at July 22, 2007 04:55 AM

Yes, I'm aware of the hacked up Jefferson Bible. Nonetheless, federal money was spent by Thomas "wall of separation" Jefferson on evangelism for the benefit of some religion.

Posted by: Doug Payton at July 22, 2007 03:26 PM

Evangelism of his non-divine Jesus?

Posted by: Cineaste at July 22, 2007 08:46 PM

Beside the point, unless what you're trying to say is that what Jefferson believed in was something that not even he would consider a religion. Even if that is the case, the ACLU of today wouldn't consider constitutional the disseminating of the Jefferson Bible, and yet Jefferson did.

Posted by: Doug Payton at July 23, 2007 08:51 AM

"Thomas Jefferson did not believe in Jesus' divinity, the Trinity, resurrection, miracles, or any other supernatural aspect described in the Bible."

Hey, if you want to call that a religion, go ahead.

"ACLU of today wouldn't consider constitutional the disseminating of the Jefferson Bible"

On what grounds could they stop it? Jefferson excised all the "religion" from it. Nothing in the Jefferson Bible requires a shred of religious faith. It's a secular document.

Posted by: Cineaste at July 23, 2007 07:47 PM

Well, again, I don't think the ACLU or the "separation" crowd of today would see it that way. Seems any use of the "J" word sponsored by a government agency is fair game for lawsuit.

Posted by: Doug Payton at July 24, 2007 01:28 PM

I'm all for disseminating the Jefferson Bible and I'm part of the separation of church and state crowd. Hypocritically, it would be the right wing nuts who would scream for "separation of church and state" if the government ever disseminated the Jefferson Bible.

Posted by: Cineaste at July 24, 2007 02:32 PM