Currie & Casper
Viewpoint: Separation of Church & State
by David Currie
“Religious liberty is the nursing mother of all liberty. Without it all other forms of liberty must soon wither and die.” — George W. Truett
George W. Truett, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, and president of the Baptist World Alliance, preached these words in Atlanta, Georgia, at the 1939 meeting of the Baptist World Alliance. It is my opinion that every person should memorize and treasure these words, along with the words to the First Amendment. For me, they concisely explain, “What makes America, America.”
Why is America the most Christian nation in the world?
Why is America the most free nation in the world?
Why is America the most prosperous nation in history?
I say to you it is because of the First Amendment that begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
No nation had ever given such freedom to its citizens. Every previous nation had in some way combined the power of the church with the rule of the state.
How did our American founders come to such a radical idea? They based their decision on the lessons of history.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1813, “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”
In 1814, Jefferson wrote: “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”
Jefferson, James Madison, and other founding fathers knew well the abuses that always occurred when civil and religious power were joined together. History was a clear record, including horrible abuses such as the Crusades and the Inquisition.
Even the Reformation failed to embrace religious liberty. The Zurich, Switzerland, city council, free from Catholic control and embracing the Swiss reformation, voted in 1527 that “believer’s baptism was punishable by death,” thus executing many more radical reformers, called Anabaptists, who insisted that the government should have no power over the church and vice versa, and that baptism was for adults who professed in Christ.
The idea of religious freedom would surface again in England in 1612, when an early Baptist, Thomas Helwys, wrote, “The King is a mortal man and not God and therefore has no power over the immortal souls of his subjects . . . men’s religion to God is betwixt God and themselves.” Helwys was imprisoned for such writings and died in prison in 1616.
It is true that many who came to America came to avoid persecution in England. What is often not acknowledged is that these same persons, once in America, persecuted those who disagreed with them.
Roger Williams was run out of Massachusetts for his views championing total religious freedom for all. He formed the colony of Rhode Island, the only colony that granted religious freedom for all. Later, Rhode Island College (now Brown University) was formed and was the only college in America that anyone could attend, regardless of religion.
Dr. John Clarke, a Baptist minister and physician, was one of several Baptist ministers sentenced to be whipped at the State House in Boston for holding a worship service without permission.
In Colonial Virginia, many Baptist ministers were imprisoned for preaching without a license.
These circumstances led a group of Baptist ministers to meet with James Madison in Virginia, prior to the constitutional convention that led to the Bill of Rights, and insisted on the language which became the religious liberty clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In fact, religion is mentioned only once in the U. S. Constitution, Article 6, which states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." That’s it. Our founders were not forming a religious nation but a “more perfect union.”
This experiment with religious freedom was not without opposition. Many states were slow to follow. Baptists in Connecticut were persecuted because the Congregational Church controlled the state. They wrote to President Jefferson in 1801, stating “that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and Individuals (sic).” They asked his help in making it clear that all persons should have religious freedom.
Jefferson replied in a letter, dated January 1, 1802, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God: that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship: that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”
Slowly, over time, all states also embraced religious freedom for all.
James Madison wrote in 1819, “The number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.”
Has the experiment worked? I think it has. No other country has such lively and public debates over religion. Many other countries routinely fight wars over religious beliefs, but none have occurred in American history.
America, by not officially being a Christian nation, has become a very Christian nation, with as much as 70 to 80 percent of the population claiming to be Christian, without official governmental pressure to convert to Christianity.
Freedom of religion naturally encourages people to think for themselves and provides the backbone for democratic government.
People come to America for religious freedom and naturally embrace economic freedom. By championing public schools early in our history, a direct result of religious freedom, we are a highly educated society, which leads to a more prosperous society.
What makes America, America? In my opinion, it is primarily because of religious freedom, which guarantees all our freedoms. Those who would change what, I believe, is the backbone of our democracy and our freedom are headed in a dangerous direction.
David R. Currie is the new Tom Green Democratic Chair. David is a native of Paint Rock in Concho County where family came in 1879, and continues to ranch there as well as in the Christoval area where he and his wife Loretta live. Married for over 30 years, they have a blended family of 5 children and 10 grandchildren.
He is a graduate of Howard Payne University and also has masters and doctors degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminiary in Fort Worth where he did his doctoral work on agricultural policy and the Bible and received his degree in Christian Ethics.
He is a former pastor, staff member of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission which focuses on ethical issues and religious liberty and retired Executive Director of Texas Baptist Committed. He was also sheep and goat specialist with the Texas Department of Agriculture in the 80's when Jim Hightower was Ag. Commissioner.
David is the author of two books, On the Way and Songs in the Desert as well as hundreds of articles that can be found at www.txbc.org.
He is currently the president of Cornerstone Builders and Angelo Granite Worx, and managing partner of Stonewall Ranches development company. He has served three terms as president of the San Angelo Home Builders Association, served on the Better Business Bureau board, as a board member of Howard Payne University, The Interfaith Alliance, The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and is current Vice-chair of the San Angelo Adult Literacy Council. He and Loretta are members of Southland Baptist Church.
by Ken Casper
The very first statement in our Bill of Rights is: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
It’s pretty straightforward and unambiguous: the federal government cannot establish an official religion, nor can it interfere with anyone’s practice of religion.
Contrary to what has been preached by the anti-religion crowd, the Founding Fathers were not agnostics and only a few would have called themselves deists. Benjamin Franklin may have been one of them, but he was definitely not an atheist. It was old Ben—he was eighty years old, ancient for the day—who, when the Constitutional Convention bogged down in unresolved debate, urged his fellow attendees to pray to Almighty God for guidance. They did so for four hours, then went on to create one of the most inspired documents in the history of the world.
George Washington added So help me God to the oath of office. John Adams declared: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
We were not just a “moral” society in the late 1700s, we were (and remain today) a predominately “Christian” nation, and the Founders wanted to ensure no government would ever be permitted to tell us we could not live and act as proud Christians. The modern notion that the government has to be not just neutral in religious matters but atheistic would have been utterly repugnant to every one of the Founders. They clearly understood that our most sacred rights come from “our Creator,” not from some mindless central government authority.
The wall of separation between church and state keeps our government from being partisan with regard to any one religion or sect. It doesn’t exclude the moral values of religion from consideration in government. That same wall keeps churches from imposing their religious practices by force of law, but it doesn’t deny to their adherents the right to publicly weigh the moral content of legislation and government actions.
Say a prayer at a public event these days, however, and chances are the ACLU will haul you into court to make you cease and desist. Our federal government is currently suing the Little Sisters of the Poor to force them to violate their consciences and pay for abortion drugs. What happened to the part of the first amendment that says there shall be no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion?
There is a militant segment in our society today that advocates freedom “from” religion, another concept that would have appalled the Founders, who wanted to promote free religious expression throughout the new country, not forbid it. For those who choose not to practice a religion, that’s their prerogative. But for them to deny to other people the right to openly practice their religion not only violates the letter and the spirit of the Constitution, it is far more destructive of the fabric of society than the most fanatical religious sect. And make no mistake, this “movement” is itself a form of religion.
To the advocates of freedom “from” religion, I ask only one question: what are you afraid of? Why do you choose to take offense at someone imploring God for love and understanding? If you don’t believe in God, why can’t you just be respectful of the rights of those who do?
It costs you nothing when someone folds his hands or bows his head or mutters a prayer before a game. We hear a great deal about tolerance these days, except when it comes to the practice of religion and expressing differing opinions.
Finally we arrive at the crucial issue of the pulpit. Can politics be discussed from there? Absolutely. The first amendment prohibits the federal government from establishing an official religion. It does not prohibit anyone, including churches, from openly discussing political matters or taking a stand on social issues. In fact, churches should. Our laws must reflect our consciences, otherwise we will not be a free and open society, much less a moral and religious one. Will there be diversity of opinion? Definitely. And that’s healthy. We need to have lively debates on issues of life and death, like abortion and euthanasia, on social issues, like gay marriage and the use of hallucinogens. We also have to distinguish between what is merely legal from what is, at its core, moral. No one should ever be forced to commit an act that is morally repugnant to them. (Back in the days of the military draft, we made provisions for “conscientious objectors.”) At the same time, no one should be denied the civil right to speak out publicly against a legal act they feel is morally wrong or socially destructive.
I believe God has blessed this country. I pray He will continue to let His light shine upon us and grant us peace.
Ken Casper was born and raised in New York City a long time ago. He graduated from Fordham University with a degree in Russian Studies and shortly thereafter went into the Air Force. He received Intelligence training at Goodfellow AFB, was assigned to Japan, Vietnam and Germany, after which he returned once more to Goodfellow. Here he met and married his wife, Mary. Three months later he was reassigned to Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, Nevada.
After another seven years of assignments as a civilian to Camp Pendleton in California and Luke AFB in Arizona, he, his wife and daughter came back to San Angelo, where he headed an Intelligence training branch at Goodfellow. He was subsequently placed in charge of procuring $200M of new technology for the Training Center's new computer-based training system.
He retired from the Air Force Reserve as a Colonel in 1993 and from the Civil Service at Goodfellow in 1997. In 1998 he published his first Harlequin Superromance, A Man Called Jesse. Twenty-four romances followed, including Upstairs at Miss Hattie's and six NASCAR novels. During those years he became good friends with Dr. Pres Darby. In 2011, shortly before Pres's death from ALS, they published a joint novel, Mankillers, a Civil War thriller. Since then, Ken has published three Jason Crow mysteries set in West Texas.
A staunch conservative, Ken was the second president of the San Angelo TEA Party, 2010-2011, and has remained active in local politics ever since.