The Myth of the Separation of Church and State

Anytime religion is mentioned within the confines of government today people cry, "Separation of Church and State".  Many people think this statement appears in the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution and therefore must be strictly enforced.  However, the words: "separation", "church", and "state" do not even appear in the first amendment. 

The first amendment reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."  The statement about a wall of separation between church and state was made in a letter on January 1, 1802, by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut.  The congregation heard a widespread rumor that the Congregationalists, another denomination, were to become the national religion.  This was very alarming to people who knew about religious persecution in England by the state established church. 

Jefferson made it clear in his letter to the Danbury Congregation that the separation was to be that government would not establish a national religion or dictate to men how to worship God.  Jefferson's letter from which the phrase "separation of church and state" was taken affirmed first amendment rights.  Jefferson wrote:

I contemplate with solemn 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.  (1)

The reason Jefferson choose the expression "separation of church and state" was because he was addressing a Baptist congregation; a denomination of which he was not a member.  Jefferson wanted to remove all fears that the state would make dictates to the church.  He was establishing common ground with the Baptists by borrowing the words of Roger Williams, one of the Baptist's own prominent preachers.  Williams had said:

When they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the Church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the candlestick, and made his garden a wilderness, as at this day.  And that therefor if He will  please to restore His garden and paradise again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world...(2)

The "wall" was understood as one-directional; its purpose was to protect the church from the state.  The world was not to corrupt the church, yet the church was free to teach the people Biblical values.

The American people knew what would happen if the State established the Church like in England.  Even though it was not recent history to them, they knew that England went so far as forbidding worship in private homes and sponsoring all church activities and keeping people under strict dictates.  They were forced to go to the state established church and do things that were contrary to their conscience.  No other churches were allowed, and mandatory attendance of the established church was compelled under the Conventicle Act of 1665.  Failure to comply would result in imprisonment and torture. 

The people did not want freedom from religion, but freedom of religion. 

The only real reason to separate the church from the state would be to instill a new morality and establish a new system of beliefs.  Our founding fathers were God-fearing men who understood that for a country to stand it must have a solid foundation; the Bible was the source of this foundation.  They believed that God's ways were much higher than Man's ways and held firmly that the Bible was the absolute standard of truth and used the Bible as a source to form the United States government.

There is no such thing as a pluralistic society.  There will always be one dominant view, otherwise it will be in transition from one belief system to another.  Therefore, to say Biblical principles should not be allowed in government and school is to either be ignorant of the historic intent of the founding fathers, or blatantly bigoted against Christianity.

Each form of government has a guiding principle:  monarchy in which the guiding principle is honor; aristocracy in which the guiding principle is moderation; republican democracy in which the guiding principle is virtue; despotism in which the guiding principle is fear. 

Without people of the United States upholding good moral conduct, society soon degenerates into a corrupt system where people misuse the authority of government to obtain what they want at the expense of others. 

The U.S. Constitution is the form of American government, but the power is in the virtue of the people.  The virtue desired of the people is shown in the Bible.  This is why Biblical morality was taught in public schools until the early 1960's. 

Government officials were required to declare their belief in God even to be allowed to hold a public office until a case in the U.S. Supreme Court called Torcaso v. Watkins (Oct. 1960).  God was seen as the author of natural law and morality.  If one did not believe in God one could not operate from a proper moral base.  And by not having a foundation from which to work, one would destroy the community.  The two primary places where morality is taught are the family and the church.  The church was allowed to influence the government in righteousness and justice so that virtue would be upheld.  Not allowing the church to influence the state is detrimental to the country and destroys our foundation of righteousness and justice.  It is absolutely necessary for the church to influence the state in virtue because without virtue a government will crumble -- the representatives will look after their own good instead of the country's.

Government was never meant to be our master as in a ruthless monarchy or dictatorship.  Instead, it was to be our servant.  The founding fathers of America believed that the people have full power to govern themselves and that people chose to give up some of their rights for the general good and the protection of rights.  Each person should be self-governed and this is why virtue is so important.  Government was meant to serve the people by protecting their liberty and rights, not serve by an enormous amount of social programs. 

The authors of the Constitution in America wanted the government to have as little power as possible so that if authority was misused it would not cause as much damage.  Yet they wanted government to have enough authority to protect the rights of the people.  The worldview at the time of the founding of the American government was a view held by the Bible:  that Man's heart is corrupt and if the opportunity to advance oneself at the expense of another arose, more often than not, we would choose to do so. 

They firmly believed this and that's why an enormous effort to set up checks and balances took place.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  They wanted to make certain that no man could take away rights given by God. 

They also did not set up the government as a true democracy, because they believed, as mentioned earlier, Man tends towards wickedness.  Just because the majority wants something does not mean that it should be granted, because the majority could easily err.  Government was not to be run by whatever the majority wanted but instead by principle, specifically the principles of the Bible.

The  U.S. Constitution was founded on Biblical principles and it was the intention of the authors for this to be a Christian nation.  The Constitution had 55 people work upon it, of which 52 were evangelical Christians.(3)   We can go back in history and look at what the founding fathers wrote to know where they were getting their ideas.  This is exactly what two professors did.  Donald Lutz and Charles Hyneman reviewed an estimated 15,000 items with explicit political content printed between 1760 and 1805 and from these items they identified 3,154 references to other sources.  The source they most often quoted was the Bible, accounting for 34% of all citations.  Sixty percent of all quotes came from men who used the Bible to form their conclusions.  That means that 94% of all quotes by the founding fathers were based on the Bible.  The founding fathers took ideas from the Bible and incorporated them into the government.  If it was their intention to separate the state and church they would never have taken principles from the Bible and put them into the government. 

An example of an idea taken from the Bible and then incorporated into the government is found in Isaiah 33:22 which says, "For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king..."  The founding fathers took this scripture and made three major branches in our government:  judicial, legislative, and executive. 

As mentioned earlier, the founding fathers strongly believed that Man was by nature corrupt and therefore it was necessary to separate the powers of the government.  For instance, the President has the power to execute laws but not make them, and Congress has the power to make laws but not to judge the people.  The simple principle of checks and balances came from the Bible to protect people from tyranny.  The President of the United States is free to influence Congress, although he can not exercise authority over it because they are separated.  Since this is true, why should the church not be allowed to influence the state?  People have read too much into the phrase "separation of church and state", which is to be a separation of civil authority from ecclesiastical authority, not moral values. 

Congress has passed laws that it is illegal to murder and steal, which is the legislation of morality.  These standards of morality are found in the Bible.  Should we remove them from law because the church should be separated from the state?

Our founding fathers who formed the government also formed the educational system of the day.  John Witherspoon did not attend the Constitutional Convention although he was President of New Jersey College in 1768 (known as Princeton since 1896) and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  His influence on the Constitution was far ranging in that he taught nine of fifty-five original delegates.  He fought firmly for religious freedom and said, "God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable and that unjust attempts to destroy the one may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both."(4)

In October 1961 the Supreme Court of the United States removed prayer from schools in a case called Engel v. Vitale.  The case said that because the U.S. Constitution prohibits any law respecting an establishment of religion officials of public schools may not compose public prayer even if the prayer is denominationally neutral, and that pupils may choose to remain silent or be excused while the prayer is being recited.  For 185 years prayer was allowed in public and the Constitutional Convention itself was opened with prayer.  If the founding fathers didn't want prayer in government why did they pray publicly in official meetings?  It is sometimes said that it is permissible to pray in school as long as it is silent.  Although, "In Omaha, Nebraska, 10-year old James Gierke was prohibited from reading his Bible silently during free time... the boy was forbidden by his teacher to open his Bible at school and was told doing so was against the law."(4)  The U.S. Supreme Court with no precedent in any court history said prayer will be removed from school.  Yet the Supreme Court in January, 1844 in a case named Vidal v. Girard's Executors, a school was to be built in which no ecclesiastic, missionary, or minister of any sect whatsoever was to be allowed to even step on the property of the school.  They argued over whether a layman could teach or not, but they agreed that, "...there is an obligation to teach what the Bible alone can teach, viz. a pure system of morality."  This has been the precedent throughout 185 years.  Although this case is from 1844, it illustrates the point.  The prayer in question was not even lengthy or denominationally geared.  It was this: 

"Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country." 

What price have we paid by removing this simple acknowledgment of God's protecting hand in our lives?  Birth rates for unwed girls from 15-19; sexually transmitted diseases among 10-14 year olds; pre-marital sex increased; violent crime; adolescent homicide have all gone up considerably from 1961 to the 1990's -- even after taking into account population growth.  The Bible, before 1961, was used extensively in curriculum.  After the Bible was removed, scholastic aptitude test scores dropped considerably.

There is no such thing as a pluralistic society; there will always be one dominant view

Someone's morality is going to be taught -- but whose?  Secular Humanism is a religion that teaches that through Man's ability we will reach universal peace and unity and make heaven on earth.  They promote a way of life that systematically excludes God and all religion in the traditional sense.  That Man is the highest point to which nature has evolved, and he can rely on only himself and that the universe was not created, but instead is self-existing. 

 They believe that Man has the potential to be good in and of himself.  All of this of course is in direct conflict with not only the teachings of the Bible but even the lessons of history.  In June 1961 in a case called Torcaso v. Watkins, the U.S. Supreme Court stated, "Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others."  The Supreme Court declared Secular Humanism to be a religion.  The American Humanist Association certifies counselors who enjoy the same legal status as ordained ministers.  Since the Supreme Court has said that Secular Humanism is a religion, why is it being allowed to be taught in schools?  The removal of public prayer of those who wish to participate is, in effect, establishing the religion of Humanism over Christianity.  This is exactly what our founding fathers tried to stop from happening with the first amendment.

1.  Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson Writings, Merrill D. Peterson, ed. (NY: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1984), p. 510, January 1, 1802.

2.  John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution (MI: Baker Book House, 1987), p. 243.

3.  M.E. Bradford, A Worthy Company: Brief Lives of the Framers of the United States Constitution (Marlborough, N.H.: Plymouth Rock Foundation, 1982), p. 4-5.

4.  John Witherspoon, "Sermon on the Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men" May 17, 1776; quoted and Cited by Collins, President Witherspoon, I:197-98.

The Teaching of the Catholic Church


Church - State Relations



All rights and duties on earth come ultimately from God.

 The State is a natural institution, whose powers come from the natural law and are determined by the character of the natural purpose of the State plus whatever limitation God has, because of qualifications in the last end of man, ordained in the Divine Positive Law.

The Church is a positive institution of Christ the Son of God, whose powers, therefore, are derived from the Divine Positive Law and are determined by the nature of the purpose He has assigned to it, plus whatever further concession He has made to facilitate the accomplishment of that purpose.

In any consideration of the mutual relations of Church and State the above propositions are fundamental.

The goal of the State is the temporal happiness of man, and its proximate purpose the preservation of external juridical order and the provision of a reasonable abundance of means of human development in the interests of its citizens and their posterity.

The goal of the Church is the perfect supernatural happiness of man; its proximate purpose, to safeguard the internal moral order of right and wrong; and its external manifestation, to care for Divine worship and minister to man the supernatural means of grace.

The State exists to help man to temporal happiness.

The Church exists to help man to eternal happiness.

Temporal happiness is not necessary for eternal happiness.

Therefore the Church is of higher necessity than the state.


The State controls its own subjects, in the pursuit of its own natural end, in all things where a higher right does not stop it.

The Church has the right to preach the Gospel everywhere, willing or nilling any state authority, and so to secure the rights of its members among the subjects of any civil polity whatever.

The Church has the right to govern her subjects wherever found, declaring for them moral right and wrong, restricting any such use of their rights as might jeopardize their eternal welfare, conferring purely ecclesiastical rights, acquiring and holding property herself, and empowering her subordinate associations to do the same--all within the limits of the requirements of her triple purpose, as laid down by the Divine Positive Law, of preserving the internal order of faith and morals and its external manifestation, of providing adequate means of sanctification for her members, and of caring for Divine worship, and over all bound by the eternal principles of integrity and justice declared in the natural and positive Law of God.

In all purely temporal subject-matter, so long as it remains such, the jurisdiction of the State over its own subjects stands not only supreme, but, as far as the Church is concerned, alone.

Purely spiritual subject-matter is primarily made up of human acts necessarily related as help or hindrance to man's eternal happiness, the last end of the Church, and at the same time indifferent in themselves as a help or hindrance to man's temporal happiness; secondarily it extends to all persons and external objects as involved in such acts.

In all subject-matter not purely spiritual nor purely temporal, but at the same time both spiritual and temporal in character, both jurisdictions may enter, and so entering give occasion to collision, for which there must be a principle of solution.

In case of direct contradiction, making it impossible for both jurisdictions to be exercised, the jurisdiction of the Church prevails, and that of the State is excluded.

The reason of this is obvious: both authorities come from God in fulfillment of his purposes in the life of man: He cannot contradict Himself; He cannot authorize contradictory powers. His real will and concession of power is determined by the higher purpose of His Providence and man's need, which is the eternal happiness of man, the ultimate end of the Church. In view of this end God concedes to her the only authority that can exist in the case in point.

In point of fact the duty of submission in a citizen of a State to the higher jurisdiction of the Church does not exist where the citizen is not a subject of the Church, for over such the Church claims no governing power.

Over those who are not baptized she claims no right to govern, though she has the indefeasible right to preach the Gospel among them and to endeavour to win them over to become members of Christ's Church and so citizens of her ecclesiastical polity.


United States has no authority over England or any other nation. Prescinding from this for the moment, the Church must respect the rights of the State to govern its subjects in all purely temporal matters, and, if the subjects of the State are likewise subjects of the Church, must hold the latter to the fulfillment of their civil duties as an obligation in conscience.

On the other hand, in principle, as a matter of objective duty, the State is bound to recognize the juridical rights of the Church in all matters spiritual whether purely so or of mixed character, and its judicial right to determine the character of matters of jurisdiction, in regard, namely, to their spiritual quality.

The State, furthermore, is bound to render due worship to God, as follows from the same argument from the natural law which proves man's obligation to external worship, namely, that man must acknowledge his dependence upon God and his subjection to Him in every capacity in which he is so dependent, and therefore not only in his private capacity as an individual but also in that public, corporate capacity whereby he and his fellow citizens constitute the State.

Due worship, in the present economy, is that of the religion of Christ, entrusted to the care of the Church.

The State must also protect the Church in the exercise of her functions, for the reason that the State is bound to protect all the rights of its citizens, and among these their religious rights, which as a matter of fact would be insecure and fruitless were not the Church protected.

The State is even under obligation to promote the spiritual interests of the Church; for the State is bound to promote whatever by reaction naturally works for the moral development of its citizens and consequently for the internal peace of the community, and in the present condition of human nature that development is necessarily dependent upon the spiritual influence of the Church.

To have the further right to command the State in their regard implies that the Church has a right to impose the obligations of her authority in their regard, to exact them authoritatively from the State. Now in purely temporal matters, while they remain such, the Church cannot command the State any more than she can command the subjects of the State, even though these are at the same time her own subjects. But in spiritual and mixed matters calling for corporate action of the State, the question depends upon whether the physical persons who make up the moral personality of the State are themselves subjects of the Church.

In practice we distinguish, from a religious point of view, four kinds of civil authority.

Again, the State as such does not in such matters directly act for the supernatural purpose of the Church (the eternal happiness of its subjects), but for its own temporal purpose inasmuch as such action will make for their temporal happiness; and so it acts for the Church by indirection.

There is no parallel argument to give the State indirectly jurisdiction over the Church in matters purely temporal, and therefore of the State's sole competency. The Church is universal and cannot be a member or subject of any particular State. Even were there but one universal State in the world, the Church would not be a member thereof, for its members are not citizens of the State to the extent that in every capacity they must submit their activities for the purpose of the State, particularly not the activities concerned directly with the higher purpose of eternal life.


There is some confusion in the public mind about the meaning of the union of Church and State. The essential idea of such union is a condition of affairs where a State recognizes its natural and supernatural relation to the Church, professes the Faith, and practises the worship of the Church, protects it, enacts no laws to its hurt, while, in case of necessity and at its instance taking all just and requisite civil measures to forward the Divinely appointed purpose of the Church--in so far as all these make for the State's own essential purpose, the temporal happiness of its citizens.

That this is in principle the normal and ethically proper condition for a truly Catholic State should be evident from the religious obligations of the Catholic State as above declared. That in practice it has in the past sometimes worked evil to both Church and State, is an accidental effect consequent upon the frailty and passion of the human instruments then ruling in Church, or in State, or in both. As a partial attempt at security against such evil consequences, the Church has for centuries established concordats with Catholic States; but even these have not always saved the situation. For concordats, like all other agreements, however firm in principle, are in practice only as strong as the conscientiousness of those whose duty it is to observe them. The conscienceless can destroy them at pleasure. Between the Church and a non-Christian or a Christian, but non-Catholic, State a condition of separation, as meaning a condition of indifference of the State towards the Church, is to be expected, as the foundation of the specific obligations involved in union are wanting. Such a separation for a Catholic State would be criminal, as ignoring the sacred obligations of the State.

For a State once Catholic and in union with the Church to declare a separation on the ground that it has ceased to be Catholic is an action which as a matter of objective right has no standing.

It may be noted in passing that in the recent instances of separation in France and Portugal, i. e., the breaking up of an existing condition of union between Church and State, the separation has been effected where the bulk of the people is still Catholic, has been conducted in violation of rights and contracts both natural and positive, and has resulted, as it was aimed to do, in an attempt at complete subsection of the Church and of all civil subjects in the matters of religion to the tyranny of administrations which scoff at all religion.


The theories opposed to the Catholic position on the true relations between the Church and State are threefold, differing in latitude of negation of ecclesiastical right.

A. Absolute Liberalism

Absolute Liberalism is the most extreme. Having its source in the principles of the French Revolution and beginning with those who denied the existence of God, it naturally takes the position that the State prescinds from God: the State, it says, is atheistic. Undertaking, with the elimination of revelation and the Divine Positive Law, to get back to purely natural principles, it accepted from Rousseau and the Utilitarians the principle that all right comes from the State, all authority from the consentient wills of the people of the State. The position logically followed that the Church has no rights--not even the right to existence--save such as are conceded to it by the civil power. Hence it is not a perfect society, but a creature of the State, upon which it depends in all things, and upon which it must be directly subordinate, if it is to be allowed to exist at all.  

B. Qualified Liberalism

Qualified Liberalism, as formulated by Cavour and Minghetti in Italy at the close of the first half of the nineteenth century, does not go so far. While claiming to admit that the Church is more or less a perfect society with foundations in the Divine Positive Law of Christian Revelation, it contends that the Church and State are disparate in such fashion as to prosecute their respective ends independently in behalf of the individual, having no subordination whatever one to the other. Consequently, in all public affairs the State must prescind from every religious society, and deal with such either as private associations existing within the State or as foreign corporations to be treated with accordingly. The axiom of this newer Liberalism is "A free Church in a free State", which in point of fact means an emasculated Church with no more freedom than the shifting politics, internal and external, of a State chose to give, which in the event, as was to be foreseen, amounted to servitude.  

C. Regalism

The Theory of the Regalists conceded to the Church a certain amount of social right from its Divine Founder, but conditioned the exercise of all social powers upon the consent of the civil government. This theory, originating with Gallicanism, practically denied the Church to be a perfect society inasmuch as it made its jurisdiction depend for its valid exercise upon the civil power. The theory gradually extended its contentions so far as to make the Church indirectly subordinate to the State, attributing to the State the authority to forbid the Church any juridical act that might work to the detriment of the State and to command the Church in case of necessity to put forth her full powers to promote the interests of the State.