“The Separation of Church and State” is one of the biggest rallying cries among the left in the US. It’s like the Easter Bunny of Constitutional principles: Everybody’s heard of it, but it doesn’t really exist.
Everything said in the Constitution about religion is contained in the First Amendment, which protects five different fundamental rights in one sentence. Here’s what the Constitution says about religious rights, in its entirety:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Note that it doesn’t say you can’t bring your Bible to school, or say a prayer on public property or put Christmas decorations in a public park. In fact, all those things would fall under NOT prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
As for banning the establishment of religion, that doesn’t mean banning any expression of faith on government property. Leftists have cited that fallacy to demand that prayers be removed from public meetings, chaplains removed from the military, and even barring Christians from holding federal office. But what that “establishment” clause means is that there can be no official state religion, like the Church of England. It doesn’t mean all religious expression must be banished (or “separated”) from government, it just means the government can’t say, “This is the one true religion” and favor it above others.
Back before they “canceled” him for being a slaveowner, liberals loved to claim that Thomas Jefferson himself coined the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state.” That’s true, but he wasn’t talking about barring people of faith from government or expressions of faith from the public square. That phrase came in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, affirming to them that “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God,” and the First Amendment’s “wall of separation” barred the government from making any laws establishing a state religion or interfering with the free exercise of religious expression.
This was made clear by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1853, when it explained that the phrase “establishment of religion” “referred, without doubt, to that establishment which existed in the mother-country…endowment at the public expense, peculiar privileges to its members, or disadvantages or penalties upon those who should reject its doctrines or belong to other communities…They intended, by this amendment, to prohibit an ‘establishment of religion’ such as the English Church presented, or anything like it. But they had no fear or jealousy of religion itself, nor did they wish to see us as an irreligious people.”
Can you even imagine that a people who risked everything to take the dangerous journey to America to seek religious freedom, or their second-generation descendants, would create a government that banned people of faith?
Yet since the 1960s, we’ve seen liberal Supreme Courts ridiculously declare it unconstitutional for a student to pray aloud over his school lunch (that violates both freedom of religion and speech); or to erect a war memorial in the shape of a cross; or to display religious-themed artwork in schools even if it’s classic art; or to ask a kindergarten class whose birthday Christmas celebrates; or for a public cemetery to have a planter in the shape of a cross because if a non-Christian sees it, it might cause “emotional distress” and constitute an “injury-in-fact.”
If you can’t have religious-inspired art or books about religion in public schools, then you’ve just eliminated basic education about vast swaths of the entire history of humankind, as well as one of the most important influences on modern society. Students who attend such schools will come out of them as ignorant of art, history and civilization as anti-religion activists are about the Constitution.
You can buy my book here: The Three Cs That Made America Great: Christianity, Capitalism and the Constitution - Mike Huckabee