Dear Concerned Citizen,

Charlotte Allen outraged scores of loyal tothesource readers last week by asserting in the opening line of her article Faith Matters to Public Life that:

“Although the Constitution explicitly requires separation of church and state…”

Here is just a sampling of your responses:

“Shame on you! I was ready to bail out, without going past the first sentence. Your article started with, “Although the Constitution explicitly requires separation of church and state…” That, sir, is a lie. Apparently, you’ve bought into the secular culture’s idea of what they ‘think’ the Constitution says.” B. R.

“I’m appalled at this blatant opening.  Please have future contributors at least not start with a fallacious statement.” T. A.

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! I read my copy of the Constitution regularly.” W. M.

“Having read Ms. Allen’s column, I am disappointed that your editor chose to publish this slanted, biased piece as thoughtful, intelligent journalism.  Ms. Allen ignores the oblivious!” J. C.

“I am saddened to see the propagation of this legal myth through your reprinting of this erroneous statement.” L. W.

“I was unaware the words, “Separation of Church and State” appeared anywhere in the Constitution.  Could you identify the “explicit” reference you mentioned?” J. S.

“…how can ‘tothesource’ mindlessly repeat their rhetoric.  The constitution says nothing remotely like ‘separation of church and state’ no matter how much you contort and twist the words.” C. B.

“I doubt very much that Ms. Allen has bothered to read the Constitution.”  M. M.

 

So, we forwarded all of your emails to Charlotte to get her response. This is what she had to say:

“The First Amendment to the Constitution states: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…’ That is an explicit requirement of separation of church and state. As I made clear in my article, separation of church and state does not mean that the government is supposed to be hostile to religion or to erase all reference to God from public life as some advocacy groups demand (and some judges have ruled).”

It seems we are in a bit of an standoff!

Even though many of you were (saddened, outraged, disappointed, dumbfounded) that tothesource would even run an article suggesting a constitutional demand for the separation of church and state, Charlotte Allen has refused to retract her assertion.

tothesource would like to propose the following clarification. The U.S. Constitution does insist upon a separation: the separation of church from state.

Amendment I: 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 U.S. Constitution is clear. Our founders did not want the federal government to interfere with religious life by establishing a national church. America was, after all, a nation founded by people seeking religious liberty. Liberty is not only negative; the freedom not to do or believe in something. It can also be positive; the freedom to do or believe in something. It was our founder’s intention that people of faith should be free from a national church but equally free to express their religious beliefs.

The founders concern was also strategic. They wanted to get the U.S. Constitution signed. States with existing established churches would not sign the U.S. Constitution if it allowed a national church to trump the established church of the state they represented such as the Congregationalist Church which was still legally established in Connecticut into the 19 th century. In fact, half of the original thirteen states not only had established state churches but continued to have these established state churches after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and after the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

Unfortunately, this decision that the federal government should be non-sectarian has evolved, by judicial mandate, into the common misconception that it and all state and local governments must be exclusively secular.

How did this happen? Some blame Jefferson’s famous “wall”. Others point to Everson v. Board of Education, the 1947 U.S. Supreme Court rejection of New Jersey’s state-subsidized busing of students to parochial schools.

No one can deny the recent successes of the A.C.L.U. in limiting religious expression by use of judicial intimidation. They seek to control this dispute solely from the bench.

So our founder’s fear that the church may yield its unique (dare we say set-apart) influence on the government by allowing the government to limit religious expression is in many ways more of a concern today than it was at our nations founding.

Government has a natural tendency to amass power. Because of this, it must not assert its considerable influence over religious congregations. What’s more, the church’s mission must not be hijacked by the state.

In contrast, only reasonable restrictions should be applied to our religious institutions asserting their influence on the government. On many moral issues, the church must lead. Because the church does not have established power in our governments, it must speak up (with all of its diverse voices) to be heard or it will be relegated to irrelevance.

Many in our culture reject this role for the church. They have turned the constitutional mandate of the separation of church from state on its head. They seek the isolation and the constraint of the church by the state.

This was never the founder’s intention. Charlotte Allen was not supporting this intention with her article. In fact, she seeks to discredit it. And it most certainly is not the goal of tothesource. We hope to bring confidence to people of faith to express their beliefs freely and openly without fear of state repression.