The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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The Constitution and Separation of Church and State

Some historical references to the constitutional principle of separation of Church and state

Researched and edited by Jim Allison


September 1875
Let us labor for the security of free thought, free speech, free press, pure morals, unfettered religions sentiments, and equal rights and privileges for all men, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion; encourage free schools, resolve that not one dollar appropriated to them shall go to the support of any sectarian school; resolve that neither State nor nation shall support any institution save those where every child may get a common school education, unmixed with any atheistic, pagan, or sectarian teaching; leave the matter of religious teaching to the family altar, the church and the private school, supported entirely by private.contribution. Keep church and state forever separate.

Source of Information:

In September, 1875, General Grant, while attending an army reunion in Iowa, offered three resolutions on the subject of education, and made a speech in which he used language above. Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume II, page 722. American State Papers Bearing On Sunday Legislation, Revised and Enlarged Edition, Compiled and Annotated by William Addison Blakely, Revised Edition Edited by Willard Allen Colcord, The Religious Liberty Association, Washington D.C. 1911, pp 236)

Reynolds V. United States, 98 U.s. 145 in Error to the Supreme Court of The Territory of Utah Motion Submitted February 13, 1878 -- Decided February 18, 1878 Argued November 14, 15, 1878 -- Redecided January 4, 1879

"Congress cannot pass a law for the government of the Territories which shall prohibit the free exercise of religion. The first amendment to the Constitution expressly forbids such legislation. Religious freedom is guaranteed everywhere throughout the United States, so far as congressional interference is concerned. The question to be determined is, whether the law now under consideration comes within this prohibition."

"The word "religion" is not defined in the Constitution. We must go elsewhere, therefore, to ascertain its meaning, and nowhere more appropriately, we think, than to the history of the times in the midst of which the provision was adopted. The precise point of the inquiry is, what is the religious freedom which has been guaranteed?"

"Before the adoption of the Constitution, attempts were made in some of the Colonies and States to legislate not only in respect to the establishment of religion, but in respect to its doctrines and precepts as well. The people were taxed, against their will, for the support of religion, and sometimes for the support of particular sects to whose tenets they could not and did not subscribe. Punishments were prescribed for a failure to attend upon public worship, and sometimes for entertaining I heretical opinions. The controversy upon this general subject was animated in many of the States, but seemed at last to culminate in Virginia. In 1784, the House of Delegates of that State having under consideration "A bill establishing provision for teachers of the Christian religion," postponed it until the next session, and directed that the bill should be published and distributed, and that the People be requested "to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of such a bill at the next session of the Assembly."

"This brought out a determined opposition. Amongst others, Mr. Madison prepared a "Memorial and Remonstrance," which was widely circulated and signed, and in which he demonstrated that religion, "or the duty we owe the Creator", was not within the cognizance of civil government. At the next session the proposed bill was not only defeated, but another, "for establishing religious freedom," drafted by Mr. Jefferson was passed. In the preamble of this Act, religious freedom is defined; and after a recital "That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty," it is declared "that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order." In these two sentences is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the Church and what to the State."

"In a little more than a year after the passage of this statute the convention met which prepared the Constitution of the United States. Of this convention Mr. Jefferson was not a member, he being then absent as minister to France. As soon as he saw the draft of the Constitution proposed for adoption, he, in a letter to a friend, expressed his disappointment at the absence of an express declaration insuring the freedom of religion, but was willing to accept it as it was, trusting that the good sense and honest intentions of the people would bring about the necessary alterations. Five of the States, while adopting the Constitution, proposed amendments. Three, New Hampshire, New York and Virginia, included in one form or another a declaration of religious freedom in the changes they desired to have made, as did also North Carolina, where the convention at first declined to ratify the Constitution until the proposed amendments were acted upon. Accordingly, at the first session of the first Congress the amendment now under consideration was proposed with others by Mr. Madison. It met the views of the advocates of religions freedom, and was adopted. Mr. Jefferson afterwards, in reply to an address to him by a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, took occasion to say: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the Government reach actions only, and 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 and 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 man to all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties." Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order."

Reynolds v United States 98 U S 145 (1879)

September 14, 1879

Total separation of church and state, to be guaranteed by amendment of the national Constitution; including the equitable taxation of church property, secularization of the public schools, abrogation of Sabbatarian laws, abolition of chaplaincies, prohibition of public appropriations for religious purposes, and all measures necessary to the same general end.

National protection for national citizens in their equal civil, political, and religious rights, to be
guaranteed by amendment of the United States Constitution and afforded through the United States Court.

Source of Information:

National Liberal Platform. Adopted at Cincinnati, September 14, 1879. American State Papers Bearing On Sunday Legislation, Revised and Enlarged Edition, Compiled and Annotated by William Addison Blakely, Revised Edition Edited by Willard Allen Colcord, The Religious Liberty Association, Washington D.C. 1911, pp 170)

June 2, 1880
The Constitution wisely forbids Congress to make; any law respecting an establishment of religion ; but it is idle to hope that the nation can be protected against the influences of sectarianism while each State is exposed to its domination. We, therefore, recommend that the Constitution be so amended as to lay the same prohibition upon the Legislature of each State, to forbid the appropriation of public funds to the support of-sectarian schools.

Source of Information:

Republican Platform. Adopted at Chicago, June 2, 1880. American State Papers Bearing On Sunday Legislation, Revised and Enlarged Edition, Compiled and Annotated by William Addison Blakely, Revised Edition Edited by Willard Allen Colcord, The Religious Liberty Association, Washington D.C. 1911, pp 170.

FEBRUARY 1, 1893

" Now, during this very time, plans were being laid for the formation of a federal government for the American Union, to take the place of the helpless confederation of States, and it is not too much to say that to James Madison, more than to any other single person, except, perhaps, George Washington, is due the credit of bringing it all to a happy issue. These contests in Virginia, by which had been severed the illicit and corrupting connection between the church and the state, had awakened the public mind, and prepared the way for the formation of a Constitution which would pledge the nation to a complete separation from all connection with religion in any way. Accordingly the Constitution, as originally proposed by the convention, declared on this point that 'No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.' "

Source of Information:

An article published in the Indianapolis News, February 1, 1893, giving, in condensed form, the history of the struggle for religious liberty which resulted in the establishment of the government of the United States upon the principle of religious freedom, or that of the separation of church and state: American State Papers Bearing On Sunday Legislation, Revised and Enlarged Edition, Compiled and Annotated by William Addison Blakely, Revised Edition Edited by Willard Allen Colcord, The Religious Liberty Association, Washington D.C. 1911, pp 139-140.


The General Principles of Constitutional Law in the United States

Section L-- Religious Liberty

The Constitution -- The Constitution as originally adopted declared that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under tile United States." By amendment it was further provided that "Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," Both these provisions, it; will be seen are limitations upon the powers of Congress only. Neither' the original Constitution nor any of the early amendments undertook to protect the religions. liberty of the people of the States against the action of their respective state governments. The :fourteenth- amendment is perhaps; broad enough to give some securities if they should be needful.

Establishment of Religion - By establishment of religion is meant the setting up or recognition of a state church, or at least the conferring upon one church of special advantages which are denied to others.

State Guaranties. — With the exception of the provisions made, the preservation of religious liberty is left to the States, and these without exception have constitutional guaranties on the subject. In the main these are alike, and they may be summed up as follows:--
1. They establish a system, not of toleration merely, but of religious equality. All religions are equally respected by the law; one is not to be favored at the expense of others, or to be discriminated against, nor is any distinction to be made between them, either in the laws, in positions under the law, or in the administration of the government.
2. They exempt all persons from compulsory support of religious worship, and from compulsory attendance upon the same.
3. They forbid restraints upon the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience, or upon the free expression of religious opinions.
These are adopted as fundamental principles. No man in religious matters is to be discriminated against by the law, or subjected to the censorship of the State or of any public authority; and the State is not to inquire into or take notice of religious belief or expression so long as the citizen performs his duty to the State and to his fellows, and is guilty of no breach of public morals or public decorum.

Source of Information:

The General Principles of Constitutional Law In the United States of America, By Thomas M. Cooley, LL.D., Third Edition By Andrew C. McLaughlin, A.M., L.L B. [Professor of American History, University of Michigan] Little, Brown, and Company 1898, pp 224-227.

"Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that the people are in any manner compelled to support it. On the Contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in the public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions."

The United States: A Christian Nation, by Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court David J. Brewer, author of the Church of the Holy Trinity v US, 143 U S 457 (1892) opinion where he wrote in the dicta of that opinion that the United States was a Christian Nation. In 1905, he wrote the book the United States a Christian Nation, trying to explain what he meant by the comment that he wrote in Holy Trinity.

August 25, 1910
" We have no union of church and state in this country, for the simple reason that our state is not Christian; and the Church cannot state be yoked to an unchristian commonwealth."

Source of Information:

An editorial in the "Western Watchman" (Catholic), of St. Louis, under date of August 25, 1910, American State Papers Bearing On Sunday Legislation, Revised and Enlarged Edition, Compiled and Annotated by William Addison Blakely, Revised Edition Edited by Willard Allen Colcord, The Religious Liberty Association, Washington D.C. 1911, p 165.

See Part X of this topic for additional reference materials.
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