Guest column: Separation of church and state

To me, the religious right is only using an established opinion in their desire to live their religion as they believe God has given to them, writes Robert E. Jones.

I have been waiting for a rebuttal commentary to James Delmore’s “Religious views working their way around church-state separation” to no avail.

He writes “As Americans, we need to protect our Constitution’s wise mandate to keep ‘church’ and ‘state’ separate in our lawmaking process.”

I agree completely, except contrary to Mr. Delmore’s views. I see the law not as he sees it, but as infringing on my right to freely exercise my right to my religious beliefs.

In the third paragraph he paraphrases Thomas Jefferson, stating that the First Amendment to the Constitution “provides a wall between church and state.”

Two paragraphs later he states “the writers were painfully aware of this tyranny and subsequently included this wall between church and state.”

Wrong. No place in the Constitution, or any other documents of the time, is this term used. What is happening is Mr. Delmore and the liberal progressive left is trying to use this term to work around what was plainly stated in the Constitution.

So, what does the first amendment say and where did this term “separate church and state” actually come from and what does it mean?

The First Amendment has two clauses — one sentence, 16 words:

First, the establishment clause, then the free exercise clause — but nowhere is the term “separation between church and state” used.

The term came from a letter Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The letter argued religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God and 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 and State.

To me, that says that the government cannot make a law that builds a wall between church and state.

So how has it become part of our constitutional law?

The courts have used the due process clause of the 5th and 14th amendment to the Constitution to establish this term in making religious decisions. Due process, “the legal requirement that the state must respect all legal rights that are owed to a person,” has also been frequently interpreted as limiting laws and legal proceedings so that judges, instead of legislators, may define and guarantee fundamental fairness, justice, and liberty

Jefferson’s letter entered American jurisprudence in the 1878 Mormon polygamy case Reynolds v. U.S. The Supreme Court was first called to interpret the extent of the Free Exercise Clause related to the prosecution of polygamy under federal law in 1878.

In their decision they stated “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may with practices” but nowhere was the term used.

Again, to me it says that the government cannot enact a law that “interferes with my right to my religious beliefs and opinions.”

In recent times the term has been used a number of times to create actions as opposed to opinion based on Substantive Due process, “a principle allowing courts to protect certain fundamental rights from government interference, even if procedural protections are present or the rights are not specifically mentioned elsewhere in the US Constitution.”

Courts have identified the basis for such protection from the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. That interpretation has proven controversial. Due process basically, gives the courts free reign to interpret any law any way they feel. All they have to do is declare a provision is an action and overturn it.

Later he states, derogatorily, “Implicit in this wall is the understanding that religious groups cannot impose their dogma on civil society …”

Webster’s dictionary lists two definitions for this term: Something held as an established opinion, especially a definite authoritative tenet; a code of such tenets; a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds.

The second definition is: A doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals, formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church.

Again, to me, the religious right is only using an established opinion, the First Amendment to the Constitution, in their desire to live their religion as they believe God has given to them.

There are other comments in his article that need rebuttal but that is for another time.


Jones served over 20 years in the military, holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Computers and has a master’s degree in Computer Resource Management. He lives in Idaho Falls.


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