Bill of Rights, chaplains, Congress, Danbury Baptists, establishment clause, Father of the Constitution, First Amendment, interview, James Madison, Jon Ralston, letter, misquoted, out of context, separation of church and state, Sharron Angle, Thomas Jefferson
In an interview with Nevada journalist Jon Ralston, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Sharron Angle, was asked to defend a 1995 statement in which she said, “the tenet of the separation of church and state is an unconstitutional doctrine.” Angle’s response was that “Thomas Jefferson has been misquoted…out of context.” Watch:
OK, here’s Thomas Jefferson in context, from his often-quoted letter to the Danbury Baptists:
“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 repeats verbatim the text of the First Amendment, that Congress shall “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” followed his own words, “thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” Look up any definition of “thus” and you will see synonyms such as therefore, hence, and consequently. Substitute any of those words for “thus” in Jefferson’s letter and the meaning is crystal clear.
That’s Jefferson. What about the widely-acknowledged “Father of the Constitution” and the man who proposed the Bill of Rights to the first Congress—James Madison. What were his thoughts on the subject?
“Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.” (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822).
Madison even saw the appointment of chaplains as a violation of the establishment clause:
“Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”
Ms. Angle, when it comes to matters of the Founders and the Constitution, speak not of what you know not. And don’t believe everything you read on a sign at a Tea Party.