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image As I already pointed out in Freedom of Religion 1, according to Amendment I of the Constitution, the government does not have the right to establish a State religion or prohibit the free exercise of any religion.

This is what “separation of Church and State” means. It means freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. It means that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Buddhists, New Agers, Satanists, Santorinos, deists, theists, atheists, agnostics, and anyone else, may live according to whatever religious persuasion they see fit. The government cannot prohibit the free exercise of any religion.

So where did we get this notion that “separation of Church and State” meant that religion has been banned from the public square? Certainly not from the men who founded the United States and framed the Constitution!

Where did the phrase “separation of Church and State” come from, anyway?

In October 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association wrote a letter to President Thomas Jefferson. The Danbury Baptists were a religious minority in Connecticut at the time, and were concerned that their state constitution did not guarantee them religious liberty. Apparently, members of the Connecticut legislature saw religious freedom as a “favor” they were kindly granting religious minorities, rather than God-given right.

President Jefferson responded by reassuring the Danbury Baptists that he also was a proponent of religious freedom, and reiterated the establishment clause in Amendment I of the Constitution, which guaranteed that no State religion would be established, and no religious exercise would be prohibited.

…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.
~Thomas Jefferson, from his response to the Danbury Baptist Association

This is where the phrase “separation of Church and State” originated.

Nothing, in either the original letter from the Danbury Baptists, or President Jefferson’s response, suggests any kind of ban on expressions of faith in public. Instead, freedom of religion, not freedom from religion is emphasized. No one is asking that any religious group be silenced. Rather, the Danbury Baptists only want reassurance that they will not be silenced.

Christians cannot use the establishment clause to silence non-Christians. Or (as it is more commonly attempted nowadays) antitheists cannot use the establishment clause to silence theists. Simply because the government cannot establish any religion, it does not logically follow that the government is atheistic. Antitheists have no right to use the government to enforce their opinion on religion. If anyone ought to be silenced, it’s the Freedom from Religion Foundation, the ACLU, and any other threat to religious liberty.

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