The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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A Memorial to Congress, January 29, 1908


JANUARY 29, 1908

A MEMORIAL TO CONGRESS

INTRODUCED IN BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS JANUARY 29, 1908

To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives in Congress Assembled:

Your memorialists respectfully represent that the body of Christian believers with which they are connected, the Seventhday Adventists, and whose views they represent, has a growing membership residing in every State and Territory in the Union; that nearly all these members are native-born American citizens; and that it is supporting missionaries and has a following in every continent of the world. It is a Protestant body, which was established in this country about sixty years ago.

We recognize the authority and dignity of the American Congress, as being the highest law-making power in the land, to whose guidance and fostering care have been committed the manifold interests of this great country; and our justification for presenting this memorial to your honorable body is that we are not seeking to direct your attention to any private or class concerns, but to principles which are fundamental to the stability and prosperity of the whole nation. We therefore earnestly ask your consideration of the representation which we herewith submit.

Church and State Divinely Ordained

We believe in civil government as having been divinely ordained for the preservation of the peace of society, and for the protection of all citizens in the enjoyment of those inalienable rights which are the highest gift to man from the Creator. We regard properly constituted civil authority as supreme in the sphere in which it is legitimately exercised, and we conceive its proper concern to be "the happiness and protection of men in the present state of existence; the security of the life, liberty, and property of the citizens; and to restrain the vicious and encourage the virtuous by wholesome laws, equally extending to every individual." As law-abiding citizens, we seek to maintain that respect for authority which is the most effective bulwark of just government, and which is especially necessary for the maintenance of republican institutions upon an enduring basis.

We heartily profess the Christian faith, and have no higher ambition than that we may consistently exemplify its principles in our relations to our fellow men and to the common Father of us all. We cheerfully devote our time, our energies, and our means to the evangelization of the world, proclaiming those primitive principles and doctrines of the gospel which were interpreted anew to mankind by the Saviour of the world, and which were the fundamental truths maintained by the church in apostolic times. We regard the Holy Scriptures as the sufficient and infallible rule of faith and practice, and consequently discard as binding and essential all teachings and rituals which rest merely upon tradition and custom.

The Two Spheres Distinct

While we feel constrained to yield to the claims of civil government and religion, as both being of divine origin, we believe their spheres to be quite distinct the one from the other, and that the stability of the Republic and the highest welfare of all citizens demand the complete separation of church and state. The legitimate purposes of government "of the people, by the people, and for the people," are clearly defined in the preamble of the national Constitution to be to "establish justice, ensure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty" to all. All these aims are of a temporal nature, and grow out of the relations of man to man. The founders of the nation, recognizing that "the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can only be directed by reason and conviction, and is nowhere cognizable but at the tribunal of the universal judge," wisely excluded religion from the concerns of civil government, not because of their indifference to its value, but because, being primarily a matter of the heart and conscience, it did not come within the jurisdiction of human laws or civil compacts. The recognition of the freedom of the mind of man and the policy of leaving the conscience untrammeled by legislative enactments have been abundantly justified by a record of national development and prosperity _which is unparalleled in history. This is the testimony of our own experience to the wisdom embodied in the principle enunciated by the divine Teacher of Christianity: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

What God Put Asunder Man Should Not Unite

We, therefore, view with alarm the first indication of a departure from this sound principle. In the history of other nations of the world, where church and state have been united to a greater or less degree, or where the struggle to separate them is now in progress, we have a warning, ofttimes written in blood, against the violation of this doctrine which lies at the foundation of civil and religious liberty. We affirm that it is inconsistent with sound reasoning to profess firm adherence to this principle of the separation of church and state, and at the same time endeavor to secure an alliance between religion and the state, since the church is simply religion in its organized and concrete expression and, furthermore, that the same authority which can distinguish between the different religions demanding recognition, and give preference to one to the exclusion of the others, can with equal right and equal facility distinguish between the different denomi nations or factions of the same religion, and dispense to one ad vantages which it denies to the others. These consideration ought to make it doubly clear that what God has put asunder man ought not to attempt to join together.

A Lesson From History

A more specific reference to an important period of histor may illustrate and enforce the affirmations herein set forte Under a complete union of a heathen religion and the state with extreme pains and penalties for dissenters, the first disciple; directed by the divine commission, proclaimed the doctrines c Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. For nearly thre centuries the warfare of suppression and extinction was wage by this haughty power, glorying in the superiority of its own religion, against nonresistant but unyielding adherents to the righ to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience; Then came a reversal of the unsuccessful policy, and what forme emperors had vainly sought to destroy, Constantine as a matte of governmental expediency embraced, and Christianity became the favored religion.

Then began that period of "indescribable hypocrisy" in religion, and of sycophancy and abuse of power in the state. "Th apparent identification of the state and the church by the adol tion of Christianity as the religion of the empire, altogether confounded the limits of ecclesiastical and temporal jurisdiction The dominant party, when it could obtain the support of the civil power for the execution of its intolerant edicts, was blin to the dangerous and unchristian principles which it tended t establish . . . . Christianity, which had so nobly asserted its ii dependence of thought and faith in the face of heathen emperor threw down that independence at the foot of the throne, in order that it might forcibly extirpate the remains of paganism, and compel an absolute uniformity of Christian faith. "-Mi1man.

"To the reign of Constantine the Great may be referred the commencement of those dark and dismal times which oppressed Europe for a thousand years . . . . An ambitious man had attained to imperial power by personating the interests of a rapidly growing party. The unavoidable consequences were a union between church and state; a diverting of the dangerous classes from civil to ecclesiastical paths, and the decay and materialization of religion."-Draper. Succeeding decades bore testimony to the fact that "the state which seeks to advance Christianity by the worldly means at its command, may be the occasion of more injury to this holy cause than the earthly power which opposes it with whatever virulence. "-Neander.

It was but a series of logical steps from the union of church and state under Constantine to the dark ages and the Inquisition, some of these steps being the settlement of theological controversies by the civil power, the preference of one sect over another, and the prohibition of unauthorized forms of belief and practice; and the adoption of the unchristian principle that "it was right to compel men to believe what the majority of society had now accepted as the truth, and, if they refused, it was right to punish them."

A Union of Church and State Injurious

All this terrible record, the horror of which is not lessened nor effaced by the lapse of time, is but the inevitable fruit of the acceptance of the unchristian and un-American doctrine, so inimical to the interests of both the church and the state, that an alliance between religion and civil government is advantageous to either. If the pages of history emphasize one lesson above another, it is the sentiment uttered on a memorable occasion by a former President of this Republic: "Keep the state and the church forever separate."

Religious Legislation in Colonial Times

The American colonists, who had lived in the mother country under a union of the state and a religion which they did not profess, established on these shores colonial governments under which there was the closest union between the state and the religion which they did profess. The freedom of conscience which had been denied to them in the old country, they denied to others in the new country; and uniformity of faith, church attendance, and the support of the clergy were enforced by laws which arouse righteous indignation in the minds of liberty-loving men of this century. The pages of early American history are stained with the shameful record of the persecution which must always attend the attempt to compel the conscience by enforcing religious observances. The Baptists were banished, the Quakers were whipped, good men were fined, or exposed to public contempt in the stocks, and cruel and barbarous punishments were inflicted upon those whose only crime was that they did not conform to the religion professed by the majority and enforced by the colonial laws. All these outrages were committed in the name of justice, as penalties for the violation of civil laws. "This was the justification they pleaded, and it was the best they could make. Miserable excuse! But just so it is: wherever there is such a union of church and state, heresy and heretical practises are apt to become violations of the civil code, and are punished no longer as errors in religion, but as infractions of the laws of the land."Baird. Thus did the American colonies pattern after the governments of the Old World, and thus was religious persecution transplanted to the New World.

"A New Order of Things"

We respectfully urge upon the attention of your honorable body the change which was made when the national Government was established. The men of those times learned the meaning and value of liberty not only of the body but also of the mind, and "vindicating the right of individuality even in religion, and in religion above all, the new nation dared to set the example of accepting in its relations to God the principle first divinely ordained of God in Judea. "-Bancro f t. Warned by the disastrous results of religious establishments in both the Old and the New World, these wise builders of state excluded religion from the sphere of the national Government in the express prohibition, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Thus they founded a nation-the first in all history-upon the Christian idea of civil government-the separation of church and state. And the century and more of liberty and prosperity which has crowned their efforts, and the widespread influence for good which the example of this nation has exerted upon the world at large in leading the way toward freedom from the bondage of religious despotisms and ecclesiastical tyrannies, has demonstrated the wisdom of their course. The "new order of things" to which testimony is borne on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States, introduced an era of both civil and religious liberty which has been marked by blessings many and great, both to the nation and to religion.

A Movement to Reverse the Order

We are moved to present this memorial, however, because of persistent and organized efforts which are being made to secure from Congress such legislation as will commit the national Government to a violation of this great principle, and to the enforcement of a religious institution. Already there have been introduced during the present session of Congress five bills of this nature:

S. 1519. "A bill to prevent Sunday banking in post-offices in the handling of money-orders and registered letters."

H. R. 4897. "A bill to further protect the first day of the week as -a day of rest in the District of Columbia."

H. R. 4929. "A bill prohibiting labor on buildings, and so forth, in the District of Columbia on the Sabbath day."

H. R. 13471. "A bill prohibiting work in the District of Columbia on the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday."

S. 3940. "A bill requiring certain places of business in the District of Columbia to be closed on Sunday." (1)

While a merely cursory reading of the titles of these bills may not indicate clearly their full significance, we affirm that an examination of their provisions will reveal the fact that they involve the vital principle of the relation of government to religion. Their passage would mark the first step on the part of the national Government in the path of religious legislation-a path which leads inevitably to religious persecution. If government may by law settle one religious controversy and enforce one religious institution, it may logically settle all religious controversies and enforce all religious institutions, which would be the complete union of church and state and an established religion. We seek to avoid the consequences by denying the principle. We are assured that the only certain way to avoid taking the last step in this dangerous experiment upon our liberties is to refuse to take the first step.

All Compulsion in Religion Irreligious

We hold it to be the duty of civil government to protect every citizen in his right to believe or not to believe, to worship or not to worship, so long as in the exercise of this right he does not interfere with the rights of others; but "to pretend to a dominion over the conscience is to usurp the prerogative of God." However desirable it may seem to some who profess the Christian faith to use the power of government to compel at least an outward respect for Christian institutions and practices, yet it is contrary to the very genius of Christianity to enforce its doctrines or to forge shackles of any sort for the mind. The holy Author of our religion recognized this great principle in these words: "If any man hear My words, and believe not, I judge him not." The triumphs of the gospel are to be won by spiritual rather than by temporal power; and compulsion may be properly employed only to make men civil.

Therefore, in the interest of the nation, whose prosperity we seek; in the interest of pure religion, for whose advancement we labor; in the interest of all classes of citizens, whose rights are involved; in the interest of a world-wide liberty of conscience, which will be affected by the example of this nation; in the interest even of those who are urging this legislation, who are thereby forging fetters for themselves as well as for others, we earnestly petition the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives in Congress assembled, not to enact any religious legislation of any kind whatsoever, and particularly not to pass the, bills to which reference has been made in this memorial. And for these objects your memorialists, as in duty bound, will ever pray.'

THE GENERAL CONFERENCE OF SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS:

A. G. DANIELLS, President.

W. A. SPICER, Secretary.

-Congressional Record, Jan. 29, 1908, pp. 1281, 1282.

(1) Before this Congress closed, ten measures of this kind were introduced, including a proposed religious amendment to the Constitution (S. R. 125) to preface the preamble to the Constitution with the words, "In the name of God," besides nine for the restoration of the motto, "in God we trust," on the coins.

(SOURCE OF INFORMATION: A Memorial to Congress, January 29, 1908. American State Papers on Freedom in Religion. 3rd Revised Edition. Published in 1943 for The Religious Liberty Association, Washington, D.C. by the Review and Herald. First Edition Compiled by William Addison Blakely, of the Chicago Bar. (1890) under the Title American State Papers Bearing on Sunday Legislation. pp 260-268)