“Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion”
Constitution of the United States of America; 1st amendment 1787
Human beings act out of fear when they write laws; fear of loss, fear of injury, fear of harm, real or imagined, to the individual or the community. If you want to understand the purpose of any law or statute, you have to understand the fear behind it.
So, what did the men who wrote the first amendment to our constitution fear when they penned these lines? Did they have visions of the Pope and his Swiss Guard storming up the Potomac? Did they tremble in dread that John Wesley and hordes of Methodists would scatter the representatives and senators, setting up brush arbors for a camp meeting revival? Were they awakened by nightmares of some fresh-faced boy or girl standing before a throng of young students and invoking The Deity?
What did they fear would befall the nation they had gambled their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to establish if they did not provide this shield of First Law.
I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.
Patrick Henry 1775
All of the framers of the American constitution were products of a classical education; Greek, Latin, mathematics, and history; lots of history. The writings of Herodotus, Cicero, Plato and Aristotle, often in the original languages, made up the texts of these mens schooling from their earliest youth. Almost to a man they could quote extensively from these ancient texts as well as from Shakespeare and the King James Bible; especially the Bible. In short, they were well versed in the history of republic, kingdom, and empire, both sacred and profane. They followed the workings of contemporary governments with avid interest.
The Founders were all members of Christian churches. Many were simply members of a congregation. A large number were deacons and elders in their local churches. Half a dozen or so were past, future, or practising ministers of the gospel. They were born, raised, lived and died in communities where the Bible and its teachings percolated thru out every corner of people’s lives. They understood The Church; its strength and its weakness; its success and failure.
So, what did they fear? What danger were they guarding us from when they penned the first amendment? From which direction did they believe peril would come? From the church, or from the state?
Antithesis– The exact opposite
One of the most frequently quoted letters from the F-Fs is a passage from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist minister. The minister was concerned about the possibility of a State Church, in the vein of the Church of England, being imposed upon the people by this newly formed government. Jefferson’s reply was that the first amendment forms ” a wall of separation” between the state and the church. A third grade student would have no trouble reading this letter and concluding that Jefferson is saying that “The Wall’ is to protect the Church from the State.
The men who composed the first amendment were taught by history that it is the nature of power to seek more, and eventually all, power. The prince, king, emperor, Führer, commissar or caesar cannot permit the existence of a moral authority higher than his own; Rome did not persecute the Christian because he worshipped Christ, but because he would not worship caesar as well. The state, unguarded, will seek to take over the function and the authority of the church. The church did not take over Rome, Rome took over the church. At the height of its power in the fifteenth century, the Catholic Church did not take over England, but Henty Vlll took over the church in England and crowned himself its head. History records this tendency in government with relentless consistency; those who seek power over their fellow-man, eventually seek all power both physical and spiritual. It is not enough to dictate their actions, their thoughts must be brought to heel.
From the Bible, the founders were taught that God makes a clear distinction between ” That which is Caesars” and “That which is Gods”. They had a firm grasp of the idea that God can cause a nation or people to rise or fall as He wills. To the True Believer in Christ “all authority is from God” and to be honored, until it violates the revealed law of God. The proper arena for the believer is the hearts of men not the halls of political power. There has never , in the history of this nation, been anything that even resembles a threat of the Christian church taking over the government. God spun the sun and planets off His fingertips. He has no need to control a government when He rules the hearts of men.
The First Lawmakers of our nation did not fear the church encroaching onto caesars’ domain. They knew from their reading of the history of governments of all forms, that unless they built “a wall of separation” to guard the church, caesars hand would eventually reach out to grasp the things of God to himself. Our fathers built that wall. Their children , to their enduring shame, have allowed it to crumble.