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Myths About Church and State

Updated on August 2, 2015
ndrew Cartwright A.M.E. Zion Minsionary / American Colonization Society
ndrew Cartwright A.M.E. Zion Minsionary / American Colonization Society | Source

Separation or Cooperation

Myth number 1

Our founding fathers called for “separation between church and state.”

Truth: the constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

What the founding fathers were concerned about was the possibility of an “official” state church, which had been the norm in the past. This was partially based, I think, on practical grounds that there could be no agreement on which religion to establish. It was a risky experiment at the time because it was commonly believed that a tight relationship between Church and State was necessary to hold society together. Probably a belief still held by Muslims. Many early settlers came here to practice their own religion that they, in turn, thought should be the “official” religion. Some of the states did have official religions and the bill of rights was not meant to interfere with them.

Many people now do not understand the concept of an official state religion and what it meant. In effect, the church was a branch of government in some countries. Although people were sometimes free to practice their own religion, usually the state supported and favored the official religion. All others had to be supported by their members who also paid taxes for the official church. I believe the official church had a lot of influence on government and government had a lot of influence on the church.

The constitution was not meant to stifle religion but to avoid imposing a particular religion. Although we had no official religion, Protestantism was for a long time assumed as our religion. There were some practices that I would take exception to. The government sent Protestant preachers to Indian tribes to convert them. I have no problem with missionaries preaching to Indians, but I do have a problem with the government doing it. Public schools, for all practical purposes acted as Protestant schools, which caused Catholics to start their own schools at their own expense.

A later court decision introduced the idea of a “wall between Church and State” which I think was a distortion of what Thomas Jefferson said in a letter.

Myth 2: The founding fathers were atheist or agnostics.

Fact: most of the founding fathers were, in fact, religious and called on the Deity often. Some like Jefferson were Deists which was a popular belief at the time. It was somewhat a result of the “age of enlightenment” where Science was assumed to explain everything. Deism covers a fairly large range of beliefs but can probably be best related to Unitarianism in our day.

Myth 3:Church and state are enemies of each other.

Truth: There was always cooperation between religion and government. For example: Benjamin Franklin and Bishop John Carroll went to Canada together to enlist the support of the Canadians in the fight for Independence. Prayers were said in Congress. A Chaplain Corps was created.

I always thought the story of the Catholic Church wanting to appoint a Bishop in America illustrates what it is really all about. When England ruled, The Church had to ask permission of the authorities in England in order to appoint a Bishop. After the American Revolution the Church contacted the Continental Congress and asked permission. Benjamin Franklin replied that it is not within the power of our government to appoint bishops; that is for the church to do itself.

Theologian John Courtney Murray, SJ (1904-19670) ADVOCATED RELIGIOUS FREEDOM as defined and protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. He argued that the Anglo-American West had developed a fuller truth about human dignity: the responsibility of all citizens to assume moral control over their own religious beliefs, wresting control from paternalistic states. These attitudes led to Murray having disputes within the Catholic Church but his ideas were official recognized by incorporation into the papers of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

I also believe that where church and state are joined in politics the function of religion gets distorted. I also believe that the founding fathers meant for COOPERATION between church and state but not interference.

Church and State

© 2009 Don A. Hoglund


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      The churches should not preach politics, but they do have a role in teaching right and wrong. We do have a President who knows the constitution and chooses to ignore it, I think. He must know it because he is identified as a Constitutional lawyer.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      We need to follow the constitution and find a President who has knowledge of it. I don't like that we have churches telling people or persuading people how to vote. I was shocked to see this happen in the last election. Religion is great but should not discuss politics. I hate that the supreme court justice has a lifetime job, we need limits for these people.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Hi Peggy W

      Thanks for commenting. Since writing this i have been even more concerned about he constitution and how there has been a disregard for it even by some supreme court justices. The have a term "living document" which seems to mean the law is what we say it is. However, if the want to change the constitution the vaklid way to do it is to have congress amend it.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      The groups that are trying so hard to separate religion from government or church and state should go back to our founding father's beliefs and the Constitution. Thanks for helping to clarify things.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I appreciate your comment.I do think this subject is very central to arguments about freedom.

    • RunAbstract profile image

      RunAbstract 7 years ago from USA

      This is a very informative article. Well worth reading. It clears up much of the misrepresentation about church and state.

      Thank you so much!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I appreciate your comments. I'm lad that you found it useful.

    • freelancewriterva profile image

      freelancewriterva 7 years ago

      dahoglund I finally got around to reading this article. I founded very helpful. very well written. Thank you.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Joni Douglas

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.It doeseem like some odd things going on. I worry that church people are taken in by the idea of misplaced empathy.

    • Joni Douglas profile image

      Joni Douglas 7 years ago

      They sure switched it around to their own advantage didn't they. Now they are going to use the church to advance their agenda even more.

    • Harvey Stelman profile image

      Harvey Stelman 8 years ago from Illinois


      I'm not very religious but I do understand freedom of religion was the basis of our country.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Harvey Stelman

      Thanks for reading this. Obviously the previous generations of leaders acknowledged religion as having a legitimate role in the life of the nation. Somehow, in recent years, that has been distorted.

    • Harvey Stelman profile image

      Harvey Stelman 8 years ago from Illinois


      You can't get rid of G-D from the USA. Things I can mention.

      1- Government officials get sworn in with hand on bible.

      2- All money says; in G-D we trust.

      3- Witnesses are sworn in with hand on bible.

      4- So much more.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you. I have a hard time understanding groups such as the ACLU who want to "save" us from religion.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 8 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      A very cogent analysis of the church and state coexistance as presented in The Constitution.