Separation of Church and State
Josh Pittman

Contrary to what many people think, the famous, or infamous, phrase “Separation of Church and State” is not in the First Amendment nor the Constitution.   Justice Oliveer Wendal Holmes said, “It is one of the misfortunes of the law that ideas become encysted in phrases, and thereafter for a long time cease to provoke further analysis.”1

That’s what has happened to this phrase.  It has been used repeatedly over the years and now is thought to be in the First Amendment or thought to be what the Founding Fathers of America wanted.  This phrase actually originated from a letter written by President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association.  Although a Founding Father, Jefferson did not want “Separation of Church and State” the way it is used today.  The Danbury Baptist had sent a letter to Jefferson which read in part:

President Jefferson sent a letter back in reply which stated in part:

The phrase “Separation of Church and State” today means, in short, that government is separate from God.  This phrase is not just used in government settings; it has been applied to government schools and elsewhere.  Jefferson was not saying that the government was completely separate from Church or religious actions.  Jefferson was saying in his letter that, because of the First Amendment, the government was not supposed to interfere with a person’s personal beliefs although they could interfere with a person’s actions. 

The First Amendment to the Bill of Rights states in full that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In this amendment we are given rights including the right to “free exercise of religion.”  This amendment is not saying that the government is supposed to be alienated from religion.  What it is saying is that the government is not supposed to make a national religion like we had in Great Britain or interfere with a person’s personal beliefs.

In many other countries today, people do not have all the freedoms America gives; let’s work to not lose ours.


1.  Staver, Matthew.  Take Back America.  Orlando: Liberty Counsel, 2000.

2.  Letter of Oct. 7, 1801 from Danbury (CT) Baptist Assoc. to Thomas Jefferson,
Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division,
Library of Congress, Wash. D.C.
Also:  Resources.  “Letters Between the Danbury Baptists and Thomas Jefferson.”  2003.  On-line.  Internet.  8 March, 2007.  Available:

3.  Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert E. Bergh, ed. (Washington, D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, 1904), Vol. XVI, pp. 281-282.
Also:  Resources.  “Letters Between the Danbury Baptists and Thomas Jefferson.”  2003.  On-line.  Internet.  8 March, 2007.  Available:

Heritage of the Founding Fathers
Heritage of the Founding Fathers

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor. But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter, together with the laws made coincident therewith, were adapted as the basis of our government at the time of our revolution. And such has been our laws and usages, and such still are, [so] that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation, and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. And these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgments, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen. It is not to be wondered at therefore, if those who seek after power and gain, under the pretense of government and Religion, should reproach their fellow men, [or] should reproach their Chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dares not, assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.2
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 government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would "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 to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.3