Much has been written about Thomas Jefferson’s comment about the “wall of separation between church and state” without considering the historical perspective. Historians generally agree that Jefferson was probably a Deist and not a Christian, as his peccable intimate personal life revealed. His carried a lifelong distrust of religion, and especially clergy, into politics. As brilliant people often do, he revered intellect.
When the Constitution was written, nine of the 13 former colonies had state-supported churches. Georgia’s was Anglican (Church of England). Connecticut’s was officially Congregational. The Baptists there did not like having to pay taxes to support the Congregationalists and wrote their concern to President Jefferson. They wanted constitutional clarification and assurance that the federal government would not “make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.”
By expressing hope that states would “restore to man all his natural rights,” he reminded them that the president could not constitutionally countermand a state’s law. He was discouraged from saying more because it might hurt him politically.
Jefferson’s reply to the Danbury Baptist Association about a “wall of separation between Church & State” was “borrowed” most likely from James Burgh (1714-1775), a non-Puritan Whig, a writer whose books Jefferson frequently recommended. In one of his books, “Crito,” Burgh included this line: “Build an impenetrable wall of separation between things sacred and civil.”
The problem that Jefferson, Burgh, James Madison, Patrick Henry and some others had was not that they wanted to see religion banned. Their objection was that some cities and states demanded an oath of loyalty to a preferred church, or Christianity in general, in order to run for any civic office. In the case of the Danbury Baptists, some of their members were imprisoned for refusing to pay taxes to support the Congregational church.
According to the late Cleon Skousen, an authority on communism/socialism, that quote by Jefferson became the vehicle to rid America of Christianity in order to advance socialism. A push was begun during the last century to persuade lawmakers, judges and uninformed American citizens that the First Amendment doesn’t actually mean what it says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...”
Because of the time in which he lived, Jefferson, who occasionally offered public prayer, likely could never have imagined that religion would be excluded from public places because someone might be offended.
Ina Fay Manly