CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

The Wall of Separation between Church and State
It's not in the Constitution, so where did it come from?

Anyone interested in the answer to this question should read Professor Clayton Cramer's relatively short but wonderfully accurate blog-essay posted July 7, 2004 entitled Playing Telephone With The Constitution. After pointing out that the infamous phrase appears no where in the Constitution (if you don't know that, check it out yourself), but rather appears in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association, Professor Cramer notes:

It seems most likely that Jefferson's remarks were intended as a statement of what states should do--but even Jefferson recognized that the First Amendment was a limitation only on the federal government. State governments throughout the Revolutionary and early Republic period regularly took actions that clearly gave preference to religion in general, Christianity in particular, and in some cases, to specific Christian denominations.

I would add one thing that his article omits. Thomas Jefferson was not the first to use the "wall" metaphor in describing the relationship which should exist between church and state. Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island used the same phrasing when discussing the relationship between church and state in 1644. Williams wrote that the Christian Church is separate from the world, and "when they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of Separation between the Garden of the Church and the Wildernes of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall it selfe, removed the Candlestick, &c. and made his Garden a Wildernesse, as at this day." ["Mr. Cottons Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered," Roger Williams, 1644, London, from "The Complete Writings of Roger Williams," Vol. I, edited by Reuben Aldridge Guild, Russell & Russell Inc., New York: 1963, page 108, as quoted on Ye Olde Walls of Separation.]

While some (see, e.g., Ye Olde Walls of Separation) see Williams' language as simply reinforcing the view that there should be a high, impenetrable wall between church and state, this does not appear to be the way Rev. Williams' intended his phrase to be understood. In Religious Liberty by John T. Noonan and Edward McGlynn Gaffney, they point out that Rev. Williams' wall was a rather one-sided one. The wall existed not to protect the wilderness of the world (i.e., a "howling wilderness, in frost and snow") from the church, but the beautiful garden of the church from the wilderness of the world.

The wall or hedge, which God himself would break down if a gap was allowed in it, was thought of as a structure protecting the holiness of the church, keeping it from contamination by the world. [Religious Liberty (2001), p. 125.]

Certainly, the metaphor from the writings of the pre-eminent founder of the State of Rhode Island would have been known to Thomas Jefferson, and it is quite likely that he understood it in much the same way.

I mostly agree with Prof. Clayton: the separation of church and state metaphor should be given a fast and proper burial. The "wall" of separation was never intended to be a two-sided wall, but rather a wall which protects the church from intrusion by the state. The use of the wall to prevent the infusion of religious thought into secular life is a misuse of the First Amendment.

Use of Content

The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at