Myth Busted: ‘Separation of Church and State’

By J. Matt Barber

Religion And Politics
Myth Busted: ‘Separation of Church and State'
Matt J Barber
Matt J Barber

United States -(AmmoLand.com)- The American church has a problem. It's one part fear, one part confusion and one part apathy.

Pastors, priests and rabbis have long swallowed the false notion that all things religious and all things political are somehow mutually exclusive – that never the twain shall meet.

Leading up to Ronald Reagan's landslide presidential victory in 1980, Rev. Jerry Falwell, the founder of Liberty University, captured the crux of the church's apathy problem.

“I'm being accused of being controversial and political,” he said. “I'm not political. But moral issues that become political, I still fight. It isn't my fault that they've made these moral issues political. But because they have doesn't stop the preachers of the Gospel from addressing them. …”

“What then is wrong?” he continued. “I say the problem, first of all, is in the pulpits of America. We preachers must take the blame. For too long we have fearfully stood back and failed to address the issues that are corrupting the republic. I repeat Proverbs 14:34: ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation.' Not military might, though that's important. Not financial resources, though that has been the enjoyment of this nation above all nations in the last 200 years. But spiritual power is the backbone, the strength, of a nation.”

Indeed, it is not just within the church's purview, but it is the church's duty to insert itself into state matters relating to morality, public policy and culture at large.

Contrary to popular opinion, the words “separation of church and state” are found nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. Yet many are misled into believing they are.

So why the confusion?

It's been intentionally fomented. It's the byproduct of a decades-long religious cleansing campaign. The First Amendment's “Establishment Clause,” a mere 10 words, is the primary tool secular separatists misuse and abuse to “fundamentally transform” America to reflect their own anti-Christian self-image.

Yet these words remain abundantly clear in both scope and meaning. The Establishment Clause states merely: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. …”

That's it.

And the founders meant exactly what they said: “Congress,” as in the United States Congress, “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

In a letter to Benjamin Rush, a fellow-signer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, often touted by the left as the great church-state separationist, spelled out exactly what this meant then, and what it means today. The First Amendment's Establishment Clause was simply intended to restrict Congress from affirmatively “establishing,” through federal legislation, a national Christian denomination (similar to the Anglican Church of England).

As Jefferson put it : “[T]he clause of the Constitution” covering “freedom of religion” was intended to necessarily preclude “an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States.”

The individual states, however, faced no such restriction. In fact, until as late as 1877, and after religious free exercise became absolute with passage of the 14th Amendment, most states did have an official state form of Christianity. Massachusetts, for example, sanctioned the Congregational Church until 1833.

Even so, today's anti-Christian ruling class insists on revising history. The ACLU's own promotional materials, for example, overtly advocate unconstitutional religious discrimination: “The message of the Establishment Clause [to the U.S. Constitution] is that religious activities must be treated differently from other activities to ensure against governmental support for religion,” they claim.

This is abject nonsense. It's unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination – a twisted misrepresentation of the First Amendment. Secular-“progressivism” depends upon deception as much as it relies upon revisionism. Yes, “separation” applies, but only insofar as it requires the state to remain separate from the church. That is to say, that government may not interfere with the free exercise of either speech or religion.

For decades, hard-left anti-theist groups like the ACLU, People for the American Way (PFAW) and Barry Lynn's Americans United (AU) have employed a cynical disinformation scheme intended to intimidate clergy into silence on issues of morality, culture and Christian civic involvement – issues that, as Falwell noted, are not political so much as they have been politicized; issues that are inherently “religious.”

AU, for instance, annually sends tens-of-thousands of misleading letters to churches across the nation warning pastors, priests and rabbis that, “If the IRS determines that your house of worship has engaged in unlawful intervention, it can revoke the institution's tax-exempt status.”

That's a lie.

In reality, there is no legal mechanism whatsoever for the Internal Revenue Service to take away a church's tax exemption. Churches are inherently tax-exempt, or, better still, “tax immune,” simply by virtue of being a church. Churches do not need permission from the IRS, nor can the IRS revoke a church's tax immunity.

Since 1934, when the lobbying restriction was added to the Internal Revenue Code, not a single church has ever lost its tax-exempt status. Since 1954, when the political endorsement/opposition prohibition was added, only one church has ever lost its IRS letter ruling, but even that church did not lose its tax-exempt status. The case involved the Church at Pierce Creek in New York, which placed full-page ads in USA Today and the Washington Times opposing then-Gov. Bill Clinton for president. The ads were sponsored by the church, and donations were solicited. The IRS revoked the church's letter ruling, but not its tax-exempt status. The church sued, and the court noted that churches are tax-exempt without an IRS letter ruling. It ruled that “because of the unique treatment churches receive under the Internal Revenue Code, the impact of the revocation is likely to be more symbolic than substantial.” Not even this church lost its tax-exempt status, and not one donor was affected by this incident.

As Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel has observed, “Pastors can preach on biblical, moral and social issues, such as natural marriage and abortion, can urge the congregation to register and vote, can overview the positions of the candidates, and may personally endorse candidates. Churches may distribute nonpartisan voter guides, register voters, provide transportation to the polls, hold candidate forums, and introduce visiting candidates.”

Since 2008, the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom has spearheaded a First Amendment exercise called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” Since then, thousands of pastors across America have boldly exercised their guaranteed constitutional rights by addressing “political” issues from the pulpit. This has included directly endorsing candidates. These pastors have dared the IRS to come after them, and, not surprisingly, the IRS has balked.

Pastors, this election season follow the lead of Christ. Speak moral/political truths, in love, fearlessly. Remain undaunted by the threat of government intervention or punitive action by the state. And encourage your congregation to vote for candidates who sincerely reflect, in both word and deed, a biblical worldview and biblical principles.

Be “salt and light.”

Because Christ didn't give us an option to do otherwise.

About J. Matt Barber:

Matt Barber is founder and editor-in-chief of BarbWire.com and an attorney concentrating in constitutional law. In addition to his law degree, Matt holds a Master of Arts in Public Policy from Regent University. Matt is both an author and a popular columnist. He’s known for a unique writing style (an entertaining blend of thoughtful analysis and Swiftian satire, delivered with a rapier wit). Many newspapers and online publications run Matt’s columns, to include WND, TheBlaze, the Washington Times, TownHall and many more. Author of the book, “The Right Hook: From the Ring to the Culture War,” Matt is currently penning his first novel. Setting him apart from others in his various fields, Matt was an undefeated heavyweight professional boxer retiring in 2004. Prior to turning pro, he was a several time state and regional Golden Gloves champion, competing in the 1992 Western Olympic Trials and winning a Gold Medal in the 1993 Police and Fire World Games.

© Copyright 2016 by J. Matt Barber

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    Doug BurtDoug IndeapJanekWild BillClark Kent Recent comment authors
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    Doug Burt
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    Doug Burt

    Matt Barber leaves no question here that his goal is merely Christian dominionism. His view of church/state separation is the product of that modern dominionism. I prefer the authoritative opinion of Jefferson as to proper role of government with regards to religion – ” ..religion is a matter that lies solely between Man & his God”…and…”that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions.” I prefer the authoritative opinion of Jefferson on “…that act of the whole American people…” that the intent of the establishment and free exercise clauses was to build a wall of separation. No… Read more »

    Doug Indeap
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    Doug Indeap

    Some try to pass off the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education as simply a reading or even misreading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists–as if that were the only basis of the Court’s decision. Instructive as that letter is, it played but a small part in the Court’s decision. Rather, the Court discussed the historical context in which the Constitution and First Amendment were drafted, noting the expressed understanding of Madison perhaps even more than Jefferson, and only after concluding its analysis and stating its conclusion did the Court refer–once–to Jefferson’s letter, largely to borrow… Read more »

    Doug Indeap
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    Doug Indeap

    Take care when quoting the founders about religion, as fakes abound–including the quotation you attribute to Patrick Henry. It’s fake. http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2009/07/fake_patrick_henry_quote_found.php#more

    Janek
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    Janek

    My advice – Just keep “clinging to your bibles and your guns” because it’s counter to what Barak Hussein Obama and his minions envision for America’s future!

    Wild Bill
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    Wild Bill

    Doug you are a victim of revisionist liberal deceivers. The 1st Amendment says that Congress shall make no law respecting religion… (off the top of my head as I don’t have my reference materials handy). The separation of church and state crap came from a Thomas Jefferson letter. Then a politically effected liberal S.CT stopped listening to the founding fathers (I say let’s all get a rope and march on D.C.) and started listening to the likes of Madaline Murray O’Hare (whose theories led to her murder by her own son.) Many people would rather not be burdened by Christian… Read more »

    Clark Kent
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    Clark Kent

    ‘It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here’ – Patrick Henry. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Doug Indeap.

    Doug Indeap
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    Doug Indeap

    Barber is dead wrong about the Constitution’s separation of church and state, but has a point that that principle does not preclude pastors from weighing in on political issues. Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution, much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. Just as the founders did not simply say in the Constitution that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances, but rather actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances, they also did not merely say there should be… Read more »

    Clark Kent
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    Clark Kent

    ‘Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other’ – John Adams. ‘Remember civil and religious liberty always go together; if the foundation of one be sapped, the other will fall of course’ – Alexander Hamilton. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Gary Foster.

    Gary Foster
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    Gary Foster

    This comes from a fundamentalist who really does not understand the problems with his thinking. Just what “Church are you going to inject” in the govt. I can tell you that fundamentalists like this author are a shrinking minority and the public does not want his ideas of faith and values to color their local or national secular political institutions. If they did it would already happen. Jerry Falwell and his ilk lost the culture war. Long long ago. How odd for this site to post this kind of topic. In places in Michigan Muslims are the majority. Do they… Read more »

    Clark Kent
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    Clark Kent

    Which specific Republican positions do not reflect or support support the Gospel? More importantly, which Democratic positions DO reflect or support the Gospel? By the way, being subject to government authorities does not mean Christians should roll over and play dead (ever hear of the apostle Paul?).

    Don Prather
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    Don Prather

    As a minister, I must observe that the primary thrust of the Gospel is moral and religious, not political. That is, the New Testament primarily provides instruction about the does and don’ts of moral living and about the does and don’ts of the Christian religion. Only secondarily do these instructions have anything to do with politics. Those instructed in the Christian religion and its moral teachings are certainly to behave in all ways (including political ways) that reflect the Gospel, but their first priority is to behave in moral and religious ways that reflect the Gospel. Political activism was not… Read more »