The Separation of Church and State (from Fact)
December 12, 2009 1 Comment
There are approximately 10 locations around Tampa Bay that display billboards quoting America’s founding fathers. They reference the Web site www.NoSeparation.org, which is a shadow site for the Community Issues Council. Owned and funded by Gregg Smith with organization by Terry Kemple, the billboards proclaim the idea that the separation of church and state is a lie.
The United States was not founded as, nor was it intended to be, a secular government, said Terry Kemple president of the Community Issues Council.
The Christian message “has been excised in schools these days,” he said. Kemple, who is also a Christian minister, wants to continue to spread the message of America’s Christian heritage.
Originally, Kemple and Smith’s intention was to provide source documents through the Web site. That fell apart when a Valrico U.S. History teacher at Mulrennan Middle School started classes again. He was no longer able to work on the project of uploading source work to NoSeparation.org.
America’s founding fathers believed strongly in Judeo-Christian principles, Kemple said.
This shows in Kemple and Gregg’s choice of quotes, but the lack of source material is confounding to some.
“There’s no when or where,” John Belohlavek proclaimed. “Show me the document!”
Professor Belohlavek is an American historian at the University of South Florida. The “Age of Jefferson” is one of his courses.
One billboard quotes Thomas Jefferson, as saying “…we all agree on our obligation to the moral precepts of Jesus.”
The actual quote from Jefferson’s letter to James Fishback on September 27, 1809 reads: “We all agree in the obligation of the moral precepts of Jesus.” This is a completely different quote with a totally different meaning than what is on the billboard:
Jefferson personally engineered the separation of the Anglican Church from the state of Virginia. He also rewrote the New Testament without any of the magic, miracles or superstitions. Leaving only the moral teachings of Christ, he framed Christianity as a philosophical creed instead of a fanatical dogma.
“Jefferson saw Christ not as a savior, but as a moral teacher,” Belohlavek said. “These figures are men of the Enlightenment,” they are anything and everything, but religious fanatics.
Many of the billboards contain ellipses to separate ideas or exclude key words in order to more accurately support the anti-separation argument.
A billboard, on Interstate-275 and Bearss, reads: “God who gave us life, gave us liberty.” The actual quote is subtly different: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time,” according to Thomas Jefferson’s Summary View of the Rights of British America, July 1774. The exclusion of “the” changes the meaning in a profound way, giving certainty to what was originally a very open-ended quote about a deist God.
These founders are very complicated people and cannot be pinned down, Belohlavek added.
The issue of separation of ‘church and state’ shows this clearly. Every single colony and state that had a tax-paying relationship between a church and the state government abolished it. In the pre-revolutionary period and continuing afterwards, colonists paid a tax to whatever church was the official state church in which they resided.
This tax disappeared because, for example, Lutherans did not want to pay a tax to support the official Anglican Church of Virginia, or the Congregationalist Church of Massachusetts, Belohlavek said. For example, Massachusetts was the last to separate in 1832, but in New Hampshire a Catholic could not run for public office until the 1850s.
This is not about America having a Christian theocracy, Kemple said. The founders came to America to get away from theocracy, he added.
“They believed the best way to ensure freedom of religion was to have a Judeo-Christian foundation,” Kemple said.
You would be hard pressed to find any tenet in Jesus Christ that people would be opposed to, except that Jesus is the Way. If people cannot accept that, they cannot accept his other moral principles, Kemple said.
Belohlavek had his own interpretation of America’s Christian roots. In 1837 the British outlawed dueling in England. Then-President Andrew Jackson commented that it was a “fine Christian thing to do,” but that ending dueling in America would not work. The bloody practice continued in the United States of America. There was simply no other recourse for slander or libel.