Several times a year the phrase "a wall of separation between church and state" appears in Letters to the Editor. This phrase is erroneously attributed to the United States Constitution or its First Amendment.
The First Amendment reads: "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."
I challenge anyone to find the "separation" phrase anywhere in the United States Constitution. The phrase "a wall of separation between church and state" comes from a letter written by then President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, Conn. Baptist Association in 1802, because they feared that a particular denomination would become a "Church of the United States". Mr. Jefferson, borrowing a metaphor from Roger Williams who wrote that the "garden of the church" was to be protected from the "wilderness of the world" by a "wall of separation," penned, "I contemplate with solemn reverence the act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and state." Plainly. he reminded them that the First Amendment prohibited government from establishing the preeminence of any one denomination and he loathed any governmental interference with, or intimidation of, the free exercise of religion and conscience.
Now, let's consider the latest remark in Letters to the Editor in The Cranbury Press, dated Sept.. 4 and captioned, "Keep religion out of town logo." The writer said, "The Cranbury Township Committee may be stepping on banana peels if it approves the Christianized "official logo" that was illustrated in the August. 21 issue of The Cranbury Press." and later he mentions "The First Amendment...as a wall separating church and state."
Several questions arise regarding the writer's interpretation of the First Amendment applied to our local situation. Does he somehow equate our township committee to Congress? Since when does the inclusion in a town logo of a historically accurate picture, even one "religious" in nature, acquire and carry the authority, power, and weight of legislation, be it local, state or federal? In what way would it prohibit the free exercise of religion?
Perhaps, more reflection and greater research in this area would be of benefit. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, by Saul K. Padover; Jefferson's Letters, arranged by Willson Whitman, and a video, entitled "Separation of Church and State." by David Barton have greatly helped me. The video is produced by Wallbuilders, Inc., P.O. Box 397, Aledo, TX 76008; phone (817) 441-6044.
Thank you so much.