Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The 'Wall'

Two hundred and ten years ago this month, U.S. President Thomas Jefferson noted with admiration the American "wall of separation between Church & State." Jefferson did so in a letter to a religious organization in Connecticut, which had expressed concern that specific religious views and opinions might be imposed by the relatively new national government upon its citizens. (That organization, the Danbury Baptists Association, understood what many church groups have since forgotten - that the establishment of a national religion would be a threat to all religious freedom.) The text of Jefferson's response is below:

"To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut. 
Gentlemen 
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
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. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association assurances of my high respect & esteem. 
Thomas Jefferson
Jan.1.1802."