The Jeffersonian Wall and the KKK
Vol: 28 Issue: 30 Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Research on Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state shows that Jefferson never intended it to be the iron curtain of today, which instead was built on anti-Catholic legal views in the 1940s.
Several books released recently make the case that it wasn’t really Thomas Jefferson who favored a ‘wall separating church and state’ to keep God out of classrooms, it was Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black who wanted to limit the power of the Roman Catholic Church. It seems that Justice Black’s membership in the Ku Klux Klan influenced his thinking there, according to one of the authors.
“What we have today is not really Jefferson’s wall, but Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s wall,” said American University professor Daniel Dreisbach, whose book explores how Jefferson coined the “wall” metaphor.
What About Sixty Years of Legal Interpretation?
In the Supreme Court’s 1947 Everson decision — forbidding New Jersey to spend state education funds for religious education — Justice Black cited the phrase “wall of separation between Church & State,” from Jefferson’s Jan. 1, 1802, letter to a group of Baptists in Massachusetts.
The new scholarship argues that the Virginian used that metaphor in hopes of winning support in New England — then a stronghold of the rival Federalists — rather than as the definitive interpretation of the First Amendment.
“Jefferson worked with his New England political advisers on the letter,” said Mr. Dreisbach, who five years ago began looking at Jefferson’s original draft, the political advice and the electoral setting of the period.
Historian Robert Alley, who argues that Jefferson wanted a secular public square, rallied other scholars in protest, saying the exhibit “ignores the past 60 years of Supreme Court opinions that analyzed Jefferson’s phrase.”
Building the Wall
Wait a sec, here. What about the previous century and a half that came before that?
The ‘separation of church and state’ sounded good to the secularists, but ignoring 60 years of previous Supreme Court ‘interpretations’ is not the same as ignoring the clear, unambiguous statements from the Founders.
“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this; it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity,” John Quincy Adams — or, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We shall not fight alone. God presides over the destinies of nations.” – Patrick Henry.
And in accepting ‘sixty years of Supreme Court analysis’ of what Jefferson meant, we must ignore the sixty years of ‘Supreme Court analysis’ before that.
In 1892, in the case of the Church of the Holy Trinity vs. The United States, the Court ruled that,
“If we examine the constitutions of the various states we find in them a constant recognition of religious obligations. Every constitution of every one of the forty-two states contains language which either directly or by clear implication recognizes a profound reverence for religion and an assumption that its influence in all human affairs is essential to the well-being of the community.”
It cited eighty-seven previous legal precedents before concluding,
“Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of Mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise: and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian … This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation … we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth. These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.”
Black Was a Bigot?
Both books make the case that Justice Black didn’t ‘discover’ the wall of separation, but rather invented it out of bigotry.
“You can’t understand the period when Justice Black was on the court without understanding the fear American elites had of Catholic influence and power,” said Dreisbach, [who is not a Catholic.]
Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life at Boston College, is impressed by the new findings but doubts they can make a difference.
“I think it is terrific scholarship, but I don’t think it can change anything,” Wolf said. “The ‘wall’ idea has taken on a life of its own and is part of our custom and law.”
Wolf also said that Catholics today are comfortable with church-state separation, as every religion must be in the United States.
“One day, a group of [US] Muslim thinkers will come up with an idea of ‘separation’ that works for them.”
[I love the subliminal spin in that sentence. Those who favor ‘separation’ are ‘thinkers’ — and the subtle linking of Islam with those who favor allowing God US citizenship is a nice touch.]
What Non-Thinkers Think
Since I tend to believe the incredible volume of evidence that suggests the Founders did NOT intend to banish God, but only to prevent the state from instituting a state religion, evidently, that means I am not a ‘thinker’.
I tend to believe history, rather than re-thinking it. History says the Founders knew what would happen if the State established the Church like in England.
England had in the past gone so far as forbidding worship in private homes and sponsoring all church activities and keeping people under strict dictates. They were forced to go to the state established church and do things that were contrary to their conscience.
No other churches were allowed, and mandatory attendance of the established church was compelled under the Conventicle Act of 1665.
Failure to comply would result in imprisonment and torture. The people did not want freedom from religion, but freedom of religion.
The only real reason to separate the church from the state would be to instill a new morality and establish a new system of beliefs. Which is what the secularists accomplished during that sixty years.
There is an often cited comparison between kids today and kids sixty years ago. Back then, the number one discipline problem cited by teachers was gum chewing, followed by talking in class.
Today it is school shootings.
Stanley Katz, a Princeton scholar, said the new data on the “Jeffersonian myth” will have a “profound impact on the current law and politics of church and state.”
In the past fourteen years, it has been argued that modern anti-Catholicism produced the idea that “sectarian” groups create conflict and must be walled off from public support.
“It was an open secret that ‘sectarian’ was a code for ‘Catholic,'” Justice Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion fourteen years ago. “This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now.”
The term “sectarian” was first used in a federal ruling on church-state issues in 1948.
A few bigoted secularists in the right place in the right time in history were able to legislate God out of American life, convincing the public that the Founding Fathers were double-tongued politicians whose words actually meant precisely the opposite of what they said.
That principle that politicians mean exactly the opposite is newly developed ‘thinking’. The old, reactionary ‘non-thinkers’ (like your humble correspondent) can look to history to find that in the days of the Founders, many states required a prospective legislator to swear he was a Christian before he could assume his office.
The Bible says that Satan is the god of this world, and that, in the last days, he will deceive the whole world.
Including the only nation on earth born under the principal that individual rights are granted by God and not under the authority of the state — (the principle that makes us citizens and not subjects).
Benjamin Franklin said, “Man will ultimately be governed by God or by tyrants.”
The Bible says,
“And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If any man have an ear, let him hear. ” [Revelation 13:7-9]
This Letter was written by Jack Kinsella on August 5, 2002
Featured Commentary: In the Beginning, God. . . ~Wendy Wippel