After reading John Logsdon’s column “Understanding the separation between church and state,” I was left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I need to compliment Mr. Logsdon on his accurate interpretation of our Constitution establishing freedom of religion, speech and the right to petition our government.
We are a government, in Lincoln’s famous words, “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Our forefathers made provisions that we the people would be able to have such freedoms, with no religion imposed by or supported by the state and our country welcoming to all who believe in any higher power as well as those who don’t. All persons would be treated equally under the law and all persons, regardless of their beliefs, would be obligated to live under law we would legislate and enforce.
These very freedoms were the basis of our democracy that would through the years make the United States the greatest nation on Earth. The Founding Fathers’ intentional separation of church and state established a fertile field of freedom on which personal liberty, creative thought and individual expression could flourish and be productive.
I respectfully disagree with Mr. Logsdon’s statement: “Clearly, the Constitution and the government did not draw their ideas from the existing religions of the colonies.” I believe their beliefs in God were paramount in forming our nation. While some people feel the translation of the Treaty of Tripoli by Joel Barlow, the American consul at Algiers from 1795-1797, from the Arabic to English may have added Article 11 with the statement the United States “is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,” I will cede the point John Adams and the Senate most likely ratified such language including the statement. But to believe Judeo-Christian values were not a major part of the articles of our nation’s founding is perhaps out of context and misrepresents President Adams intent regarding the treaty and his world view.
The Treaty of Tripoli was intended to allay the fears of a Muslim state that the United States was not a religious state (theocracy) and we would be governed by the rule of law and not any religious edicts. At the time, there was much controversy in the statement many leaders felt misleading regarding the true nature of our country. In fact, James McHenry, the secretary of war, protested and said if not Christianity, “what else is it founded on?”
It is also interesting to note in the subsequent Treaty of Peace and Amity of 1805 which superseded and replaced the Treaty of Tripoli with the same factions, the statement is removed. Also, President Adams’ letter to Thomas Jefferson in June 1813 clearly states he believed the principles of Christianity were paramount in forming our country. He wrote, “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence, were the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite … and what were these general principles? I answer the general principles of Christianity….” One need only also look to the Proclamation of the Continental Congress to the American People on March 19, 1782, (five years before the Constitution was ratified) which is replete in its references to God and the Bible. John Adams in his Presidential Proclamation of March 1799 clearly demonstrates he believed God was intimately involved in the creation and continuation of the United States.
The evidence from history clearly shows our forefathers strongly opposed the formation of a religious state or one where any religion was elevated above another; however, they also firmly believed the general Judeo-Christian principles were integral to the fabric of our American system — our politics, our social structures and our culture.
Historically, Jesus Christ was perhaps the most winsome individual to ever walk the Earth. And though he was ultimately rejected and killed by his own people, his impact on mankind is perhaps greater than any individual who ever lived. He preached brotherly love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, equality, humility and self-control at a time when the world was dark and those tenets and virtues didn’t exist. He ministered to the poor, sick, needy, underprivileged and social misfits. He despised the legalistic religious self-righteous leaders whom he called hypocrites holding themselves above others for their own gain. He was righteous in the things he said and the way he lived.
Jesus was the first individual at that time to believe and advocate the separation of church and state. He knew spiritualism and belief in God or not was personal, to him even relational. A true theocracy is perhaps the worst form of tyranny insofar as it strips personal fundamental liberty away from the individual and imposes it without exception through the state. In truth, the very separation of church and state might itself be considered a Judeo–Christian tenant. It is certainly a fundamental component to ensuring a free republic, and on that I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Logsdon. Fortunately, our founders knew that fact as well.
Dr. Ralph Massullo is a Citrus County dermatologist. He is running for the Florida House of Representatives District 34 seat.