Here are some of the issues Americans United works on. Roll mouse over link for brief explanation, or click to go to the national site for more about the issue.
History of State/Church Separation
Religious freedom is a celebrated American tradition. Our Founders knew that mixing religion and government only caused civil strife, inequality and very often violence in pluralistic societies. For more than 300 years, church-state separation advocates have fought to keep the tradition moving forward. Thanks to these efforts, modern Americans enjoy more religious liberty than any people in the world.
Americans United is dedicated to exploring and sharing the history of church-state separation in the United States. Our collection of writings by the early advocates of religious liberty shows that our forbears meant it to be one of our most cherished rights.
If you would like to learn more about the history of church-state separation in America, please email us.
Thomas Jefferson is considered one of the greatest champions of religious liberty in American history. He often wrote of its importance in legislation, speeches, letters and personal reflections. Here are some of his quotes on religious liberty and church-state separation.
James Madison wrote frequently about religious freedom and its corollary, the separation of church and state. Here are some of Madison’s best quotations on the subject.
Thomas Jefferson’s Jan. 1, 1802, letter to the Danbury, Conn., Baptist Association is a seminal document in American church-state history. In the letter, Jefferson used the metaphor of the “wall of separation between church and state,” a phrase that, as the Supreme Court once noted, has come to be accepted as an authoritative declaration of the scope and meaning of the First Amendment.
Thomas Jefferson’s “Act for Establishing Religious Freedom” was introduced in 1779 but did not become law until Jan. 16, 1786. The bill was important milestone in the development of religious liberty and church-state separation in the United States. Scholars acknowledge it as important influence on the First Amendment. Prior to passage of the act, Virginia had a system of state-established religion and mandatory support, through church taxes, for the Anglican faith. The act ended that and guaranteed complete religious liberty for all. Jefferson was so proud of the act that he considered it one of the most important accomplishments of his life. His grave marker at Monticello does not mention that Jefferson was president — but notes his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
The “Treaty With Tripoli” has figured prominently in the ongoing debate over whether the United States was intended to be an officially “Christian nation.” Advocates of church-state separation point to Article 11 of the treaty as evidence that public officials in the fledgling United States were well aware of the government’s non-religious character and weren’t afraid to state it publicly.
James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” was written in 1785 in opposition to a proposal by Patrick Henry that all Virginians be taxed to support “teachers of the Christian religion.” To this day, the “Memorial and Remonstrance” remains one of the most powerful arguments against government-supported religion ever penned.
James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, was a staunch advocate of the separation of church and state. In 1946, a collection of Madison’s handwritten notes was discovered among the papers of William Cabell Rives, a Madison biographer. The informal essays were mostly likely written between 1817 and 1832 and offer a glimpse into Madison’s thoughts on various issues.
Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison opposed government-issued religious proclamations. Both men were key architects of religious liberty in America, and both believed strongly that government should not meddle in religious matters.
During a visit to Newport, R.I., in 1790, a year before the Bill of Rights was ratified, President George Washington received a letter from Moses Sexias, warden of the Touro Synagogue, seeking assurance of religious freedom for Jews. President Washington gave an unequivocal guarantee, returning a letter stating that the new government would “give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
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Why State/Church Separation?
Religious liberty. Freedom of conscience.
The right to believe – or not believe – whatever you want about religion.
The right to share these beliefs with others and pass them on to your children.
The right to contribute your hard-earned money only to the religious institutions of your choice (if any).
The right to live your life as you see fit without interference from aggressive religious groups who want to impose their doctrines on you with the help of the government.
These ideas are all part of what makes America special. Enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution, they are central to our identity as a free people. Without freedom of religion, we wouldn’t be the nation that we are.
At Americans United, we believe these freedoms rest on the wall of separation between church and state. A high and firm barrier between the institutions of religion and government serves as a sturdy platform for those freedoms.
AU believes your right to religious liberty is not secure when the government presumes to promote religion over non-religion or favors one faith over another. We believe your rights are not secure when the government uses public services intended for everyone, such as the public schools, to indoctrinate or coerce participation in worship.
Americans United believes your rights are not secure when the federal and state taxes which you pay go toward someone else’s religion or when the government appropriates and displays the symbols of a faith that you may not share.
AU believes in religious freedom, in the right of all Americans to freely choose a faith and support it voluntarily or to follow no religious or spiritual path at all. And we also believe that government-sponsored religion is dangerous and unnecessary. It is wrong for the government to interfere in what must always remain a deeply personal matter.
Americans United believes that only the church-state wall can safeguard our rights. That’s why we defend that wall, every day. That’s why we care.
And it’s why you should, too.
Texas Bill of Rights
Excerpts relating to Religious Liberty and Church/State Separation
Section 4 – RELIGIOUS TESTS
No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall anyone be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.
Section 5 – WITNESSES NOT DISQUALIFIED BY RELIGIOUS BELIEFS; OATHS AND AFFIRMATIONS
No person shall be disqualified to give evidence in any of the Courts of this State on account of his religious opinions, or for the want of any religious belief, but all oaths or affirmations shall be administered in the mode most binding upon the conscience, and shall be taken subject to the pains and penalties of perjury.
SECTION 6 – FREEDOM OF WORSHIP
All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences. No man shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent. No human authority ought, in any case whatsoever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience in matters of religion, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious society or mode of worship. But it shall be the duty of the Legislature to pass such laws as may be necessary to protect equally every religious denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of public worship.
SECTION 7 – APPROPRIATIONS FOR SECTARIAN PURPOSES
No money shall be appropriated, or drawn from the Treasury for the benefit of any sect, or religious society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the State be appropriated for any such purposes.
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