Tags: thomas | jefferson

What Would Jefferson Say About Church and State?

Monday, 03 Mar 2008 09:05 AM

By Pat Boone

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“Mr. Jefferson, I’m so grateful to have this opportunity to talk with you. Thank you for your time.”

“Time has no relevance to me any more, young man. Only eternal matters concern me in the least. Why did you wish to see me?”

“Well, sir, I don’t know how much you’re aware of what goes on below, here on earth . . .”

“I pay little, if any attention, young sir.”

“I see. Then, again, I’m embarrassed to tell you that you’re not given much attention in our country any more, quoted very seldom, and all but erased from the history books provided to our school children. Most of us adults knew of you and George Washington and Ben Franklin and John Adams and our other founding fathers quite well. We learned about the Boston Tea Party, 'taxation without representation,' the midnight ride of Paul Revere, and the passionate determination of our citizens to free. But our kids aren’t being taught about those things today.”

“And why is that?”

“It’s hard to say exactly, Mr. Jefferson, but we have teacher organizations who make the decisions about what will be taught, and what won’t . . . and they’ve decided that their new ideas of what America ought to be are more important now than how we actually came to be a free and independent democracy.”

“You’re telling me that the teachers of today find our intentions, our sacrifices, and our purposes of so little consequence that the younger generation doesn’t need to know about them? How do they expect to preserve what we created? What will be their guide?”

“Oh, their newer ideas, more recent philosophies, what other countries and societies are doing. One of our most recent Supreme Court justices — a woman, which might surprise you, Mr. Jefferson — actually suggested we should learn from legal decisions and positions in Europe, and try to conform to them.”

“In Europe? Don’t they realize it was precisely the conformist, humanist, even dictatorial philosophies of Europe we wanted to be free of? That America was intentionally founded on unique precepts that could guarantee the God-endowed rights of man and not dictate them? We worked hard and prayerfully to erect a structure that upheld the will and independence of the citizens, a system of law that enabled people to feel secure, yet equal on every level of society. Europe never knew that, nor did any previous nation. It’s all spelled out specifically in the Constitution! Do these modern teachers disregard that document now?”

“Well, many of us feel they’re not exactly ignoring the Constitution; they and some activists and even some judges on every level of our judicial system are reinterpreting it, warping it to conform to their own ideas of what they’d prefer America to be, not what you and our other founders intended. That’s really what I wanted to ask you about, Mr. Jefferson. For instance, these revisionists have taken a statement of yours, a phrase you coined, 'separation of church and state,' and are using it in the courts, to remove any mention of God or the Bible from public property or government processes. Is this what you meant to convey with that phrase?”

“Of course not! How absurd! I used those words, borrowing somewhat from the much-respected Baptist minister Roger Williams who used almost that same phrase, in my letter to a Baptist congregation in Danbury, Connecticut in 1802. As president, I was assuring them that Congress would never mandate a specific state religion, as had been done in England, and even in Virginia earlier. That’s clearly all I said, and all I intended. You say these revisionists are implying I meant something more?”

“Oh, yes, sir! Even our Supreme Court seems to have been persuaded that you believed the First Amendment prohibited any recognition of God by either state or federal governments. The revisionists are rapidly succeeding in purging any public reference to ‘God’ from schools, open displays, ceremonies, anywhere, anytime! And they’re quoting your phrase as justification!”

Long pause.

“I’m offended beyond measure, good sir. Let me remind you of my own public statements, which you can verify and proclaim widely and consistently to the populace — and to the faces of the misguided jurists, in particular. It was I, while our blessed Constitution was an infant, who pointed out that the misguided opinion that judges have the right to decide what laws are constitutional, and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action, but for the legislature and executive in theirs, would make the judiciary a despotic branch. Obviously, that has occurred — sadly for America.

“None of us, sir, even the few who were deists or agnostics, denied the right — indeed the obligation — to publicly pay homage to our Creator, no matter how we individually understand Him. Have your contemporaries forgotten my very words in the Declaration of Independence ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights’? And are they quoting only the first words of the First Amendment about the ‘establishment of religion’ — and ignoring the very next words ‘nor restricting the free exercise thereof’?

“How can good, intelligent Americans allow this perversion of intent?”

“Mr. Jefferson, I gather that you would then approve the inclusion of two words, ‘under God,’ in our current Pledge of Allegiance . . .”

“Young man, I shared these concerns you’ve mentioned even in the early days of the new republic. And I understand that these words of mine are inscribed on a memorial in my honor in Washington, even today: 'God who gave us life gave us liberty.' And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

“Mr. Jefferson, you’ve answered my questions. God help America.”

“Exactly.”

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