Church & State

First Amendment to the United States Constitution
Amendment I

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …” In these first words of the first amendment of our constitution lies an important cornerstone of the American political system, the separation of church and state.

Many Christians lament social and political deference to non-Christian religions, and in particular, efforts by the ACLU and others to remove Christian symbolism from public spaces. They argue that America is a Christian nation, and cite as evidence that the founding fathers were all Christian and that Americans are predominately Christian. Assuming this is true, why then does this opening statement of the First Amendment exist?

Despite our history of immigrants coming from all corners of the world, the preponderance of our cultural foundations came with the earliest migrants from England. Our sanitized version of the Thanksgiving legend has the Puritan Pilgrims fleeing from religious oppression in England and coming to America seeking religious freedom. While historically accurate, nothing is mentioned of the English Civil War of 1642, the brutal execution of King Charles I, and the protestant ascendancy led by Oliver Cromwell.  The King was married to a Catholic, considered too sympathetic to Catholic Nobles and merchants, and rumored to be conspiring to return the Church of England to the Pope. The new Protestant government dragged Royal sympathizers, Protestant as well as Catholics, from their homes, imprisoned, tortured, and brutally executed in the public square.   For nearly two decades the protestant government tolerated puritan excesses of social control, accusations of impurity of thought, and severe punishment administered in the name of religion.  More than 600 people were burned at the stake across England, accused of witchcraft and heresy, most of whom were Catholic. It comes as no surprise that with the Enlightenment of the 18th century, Puritans were no longer welcome in England.

Churches, over a span of 1,000 years of English history, were lead by men who were politically motivated administrators. Bishops were actually appointed by kings. They “took the orders” to escape debt or poverty, or because of lack of opportunity since they were not of noble blood or from successful merchant families. They were ambitious seekers of wealth and power through the church and wielded the fear of God as path to achievement.  They were a shadow government of England and had great influence over social policy.

Our founding fathers were educated men, and knew their history.  They understood that the alchemy of religion mixed with government could not produce a golden age of civilization.  They supported overwhelmingly the separation of church and state, as do I.

Gene Ziegler