Absolutely true, and absolutely irrelevant. As noted earlier, separationists take this language from Thomas Jefferson's 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists in which he argued that the Constitution created a "wall of separation between church and state." But, as noted above, separationists have never taken the phrase as anything more than a handy (if historically significant) summary of the intent of the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Separationist scholar Leo Pfeffer, for example, notes:
"No magic attaches to a particular verbalization of an underlying concept. The concept at issue here is more accurately expressed in Madison's phrase 'separation between Religion and Government,' or in the popular maxim that 'religion is a private matter.'" (Church, State, and Freedom, pp. 118-119).
Second, accommodationists don't apply this argument consistently. Pfeffer, for example, observes that:
(T)he phrase "Bill of Rights" has become a convenient term to designate the freedoms guaranteed in the first ten amendments; yet it would be the height of captiousness to argue that the phrase does not appear in the Constitution. Similarly, the right to a fair trial is generally accepted to be a constitutional principle; yet the term "fair trial" is not found in the Constitution. To bring the point even closer to home, who would deny that "religious liberty" is a constitutional principle? Yet that phrase too is not in the Constitution. The universal acceptance which all these terms, including "separation of church and state," have received in America would seem to confirm rather than disparage their reality as basic American democratic principles (pp. 118).
Return to home