Church and State Separation, 275-years later

Things just never get better.

I have my students read  Theodore Roosevelt’s one-century old (1912) quotes concerning health care. It is the same argument we are having today about health care – who should be responsible if the United States is to remain a great nation. 

William Jennings Bryant quotes about the gold standard  and American exceptionalism from the late 1890s are still with us. We are exceptional, but more than other countries? Are we just lucky that more exceptional people from elsewhere have decided to live here? Or is there a “higher power” controlling the American destiny?

As are the arguments from various Founders concerning our freedoms and attitudes towards the new nation being secular or sectarian. Many of those who support the Christian nation theories enjoy quoting or misquoting Jefferson, Madison, Jay, Hamilton and Franklin, or taking the quotes way out of context. Even scholars on these great men have written what appear to be “sided” accounts and not biographies. 

I especially like these two Franklin quotes.

“I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue. The scriptures assure me that at the last day we shall not be examined on what we thought but what we did.”

“I wish (Christianity) were more productive of good works … I mean real good works … not holy-day keeping, sermon-hearing … or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments despised by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity.”

I find these two statements as true today as when Franklin wrote them in 1738 and 1786.

In fact, I also “wish” religions were more humanistic than mystical. That positive, non-violent actions speak louder than words where part of the new mantra. This includes, by the way, writing letters to right a social or human wrong.

Leave god’s injustices to those who believe in God and with their religious institutions. By their own admission, they will not win.

Does this mean I want to do away with all religion? That is a hard question to answer.

Considering all of the hardships, the wars, and the human atrocities committed by the various religions over at least six-millennium, or at least from October, 4004 BCE, to see the oppression of followers because of gender, gender preference, religious preference, et cetera, the answer is “Yes.” Not because religions are bad, but they are an excuse to gain maniacal powers over the people. This is not the national morals of the United States. We do not want this in government, but seem to accept it in our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples.

The “No” answer involves the need for community and the need to be able to answer those questions that some believe science cannot. Let’s not argue about mythologies of the scriptures of the world religions versus science. It is not my place, nor yours, to tell someone else how to think or believe. We can show proofs and evidence, state opinions and positions, but we cannot tell someone how to think.

We can argue about indoctrination of our children by those on both sides of the aisle. It is not the religious or irreligious indoctrination, but the hatred involved in that indoctrination that should concern us. It is my grandson saying that all Muslims are evil. Or an evangelical Christian calling me “in league with the Devil” because of my atheism.

It was not only Jefferson who called for a strong separation between church and state. One of the more pious of our founders, James Madison wrote in 1822,

An alliance or coalition between Government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against……Every new and successful example therefore of a PERFECT SEPARATION between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance……..religion and government will exist in greater purity, without (rather) than with the aid of government. 

Yet the election of 1800 proved to be the foundation of today’s secular versus sectarian battles in and out of Congress, our churches, synagogues, mosques, taverns and coffee houses (or where even the non-religious hang out).

Different century, same old arguments, same non-answers, same anger, and same misunderstandings.

The only answer I have comes from Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, who in 1948 said on the eve of Israel’s independence, “One must open his ears to open his mind.”


David Rosman’s newest book, A Christian Nation? An examination of Christian nation theories and proofs is now available through in paperback or eBook versions.

You can invite David to speak to your group or organization. For more information, please contact him at

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
This entry was posted in Atheism, Christianity, Church/State Separation, Conspiracy Theories, Constitution, Ethics, Politics, politics, Religion, Religious, War on Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.