This past week I heard an interesting interview on The Al Franken Show, with Brooke Allen, author of Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers. She is a historian who was tired of hearing Christian conservatives talking about how America is a “Christian Nation.” Her research shows that our Founding Fathers were pretty vehemently against any role for organized religion in our civic life.
More than a few politicians and conservative religious figures have offered statements to the effect that there really is no “wall of separation between church and state” in the Constitution, and even if you can interpret the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as such, it really wasn’t the intent of the Founders to create such a wall.
Professor Allen dug up a fascinating quote from Thomas Jefferson in a letter he wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association on January 1, 1802:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & 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 & State.
I tend to think that Jefferson knew a thing or two about what the Founders really meant. So when you hear someone say that the separation between church and state is the construction of “activist judges,” you can be assured they’re full of it.