MR. JEFFERSON’S FAMOUS WALL
By Tom Taylor
In the First Amendment to the Constitution, is there any reference to a “wall of separation between
church and state?” No, there is not. That phrase and even that concept did not come from the
Constitution. And yet when Thomas Jefferson was President, he used that exact phrase in an 1802 letter to
describe the First Amendment.
Two points need to be made about Jefferson’s use of that phrase which will show, I believe, today’s
judges are dead wrong when they rule our Judeo-Christian heritage must be eradicated from public life.
First, Jefferson is not an author of the Constitution, but was serving as ambassador to France when the
Constitution was being hammered out in 1787 - 1789. If federal judges really want to learn the Founders’
intent and meaning for the First Amendment, they should read the authors’ own words in The Journals of
Congress. The courts have no right to reach out to a phrase used thirteen years later by a member of the
executive branch who wasn’t there, and give it the force of Constitutional law – especially when no such law
has ever been passed by any American legislature.
Second, having misappropriated this phrase, liberal judges have taken it completely out of context and
used it to mean the opposite of what Jefferson meant. In 1801 a committee of Connecticut Baptists wrote to
President Jefferson complaining the Connecticut legislature had passed laws (unspecified) governing
religious matters: a practice they termed as making “laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.” They
acknowledged Jefferson could do little to help them (since the federal government at that time had no
authority over state laws,) but asked for his moral support in their struggle for religious freedom.
Jefferson gave them his support in his famous 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in which
he agreed in general terms the legislature should not govern over religious matters, and quoted the First
Amendment as “building a wall of separation between church and state.” So in context Jefferson’s “wall” is
to prohibit government from interfering with the Church or religious matters. But today’s federal courts have
twisted it to justify the very act of tyranny Jefferson condemned.
Could Jefferson’s “wall” really be interpreted to mean public schools should be free of religious
observance and influence? Jefferson knew no such interpretation. During that same general time he
served as Chairman of the District of Columbia public schools, and authorized use of the Bible and a
Christian hymnal as principal reading texts.
Then, could his “wall” mean the government must have no connection at all with Christianity? No.
When Jefferson was president the largest church service at the time in America was held each Sunday in
the Capitol building itself, and he attended regularly. In fact, Jefferson, like the other Founders, staked the
survival of American liberty on a continued Judeo-Christian influence over the nation and government. He
wrote, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we remove their only firm basis – a conviction
in the minds of the people that their liberties are a gift from God?”
In the context of history, it’s absurd to think the words of Jefferson or any other Founder would authorize
the eradication of the Judeo-Christian religion from America’s schools and public life as is being perpetrated
by today’s federal judges.