I think the challenge with the separation of Church and State issue is one of perspective. The original intent is that the church should not be under the control of the state.
Mark 12:17 (ESV)
Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Many continue to insist that the First Amendment calls for a removal of every trace of our Judeo-Christian heritage from the public arena. Let’s scrutinize this position more closely. The First Amendment to the Constitution reads this way:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The establishment of religion here referred to a state–sponsored religion. When James Madison wrote this he clearly referred to the establishment of a state church where ministers draw salaries from the government, where bishops serve in the legislature, and where people are taxed to support the established church buildings, employees, and activities. Simply put, the First Amendment prohibits Congress from establishing a national religion, sponsored and funded by the federal government.
On the flip side, the First Amendment also prohibits the government from forbidding the free exercise of religion. Apart from any state church, all faiths are free to practice their religions without government intervention.
The correct interpretation of the phrase, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” is freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.
It’s important to note that the phrase, “Separation of Church and State,” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution or in the Bill of Rights – there was never any such intimation. The issue of separation between Church and State was the result of a wrong interpretation of a Thomas Jefferson letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802.
The Danbury Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut sent a letter, dated October 7, 1801, to newly elected President Thomas Jefferson, expressing concern over the lack in their state constitution of explicit protection of religious liberty, and against a government establishment of religion. In their letter to the President, the Danbury Baptists affirmed that, “Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty.”
Thomas Jefferson’s response, dated January 1, 1802, concurs with the Danbury Baptist’s views on religious liberty and the accompanying separation of civil government from concerns of religious doctrine and practice. The misinterpretation of Jefferson’s letter comes from this sentence in his letter: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
Here’s the misinterpretation: The secular revisionists say that Jefferson was implying a wall of separation of Church and State be built, while just the opposite is true. Jefferson was promoting religious freedom, not restricting the public acknowledgment of God.
Sweeping statement now: The separation of Church and State does not mean the exclusion of God, righteousness, and morality from public view or from the public sector. An institutional separation did not require a public secularization. Unfortunately, the once clear institutional separation of Church and State has now been subverted into a militant policy of civic secularization, thus depriving the United States of the positive benefits this nation has long experienced from its public acknowledgment of God.
Contrary to revisionist opinions, our founding fathers established our government with both a strong dependence on religious principles and a clear limitation on federal powers. Therefore, people who embrace the Holy Bible as the Word of God should elect leaders who will not only protect and expand the opportunity for the public acknowledgment of God, but who will also apply His principles to limited government. In other words, there is no such thing as separation of church and state…as it’s being presented and debated today!