The Necessary Separation of Church and State in America
On January 1, 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut in which he stated:
“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.”
(Jefferson,1802, Letter to Danbury Baptist Association)
The strongest phrase in Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter, “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,…” goes to the heart of American strength. It provides the foundation upon which this nation’s strength and resolve is built. It is the groundwork laid to allow American citizens to be who they are without government interference and that freedom allows the citizens to learn and grow from each other, building the foundation with the strength of cultural and religious diversity. America was built on this foundation and it is instilled in the heart of every proud American citizen. The content of this single letter and the resultant mirrored text within the United States Constitution has not only defined the way American society functions, but has lead to the growth of the country’s diversity and power in the world as a whole. The effect of separation of church and state in the United States evolved through hard won struggles and battles, resulting in great diversity among the varying religions, backgrounds, and heritages of the citizens that make up this great country. As a result, the United States of America is willing to pay the high price of international disdain to preserve the freedoms conveyed by the concept of separation of church and state that has resulted in the strength and values inherited by its citizens.
When the original 13 colonies were established in what came to be the United States of America, the goal of the British government was to expand on its resources for trade materials and manufactured goods. Because the colonies were young and not established firmly, there were labor shortages and many of the first colonists died of starvation. In an effort to remedy the shortage, the British government sent indentured servants to work in the colonies until their debts had been repaid. Among the indentured servants and military members sent to the colonies by the government, were a large number of citizens who were seeking freedom from persecution due to differing religious and political beliefs. By the time Thomas Jefferson wrote the Danbury Letter, the country had begun growing in a direction that differed from their British history.
Thomas Jefferson’s intent...