-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
The earliest North American advocate of the separation between church and state was Roger Williams who founded not only the first Baptist Church on the continent, but also the colony of Rhode Island. In his 1644 book, The Bloody Tenent of Persecution, Williams used the phrase “[A] hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”
Fortunately, Thomas Jefferson didn’t use “hedge” in his famous letter in reply to the Danbury Baptists. However, “hedge” does fit into Williams’ metaphor that uses garden and wilderness.
The Danbury Baptists were a minority religion in a Connecticut dominated by the Congregational church. In their letter to Jefferson, the minority Danbury Baptists wrote:
… what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights: and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen.
The Danbury Baptists were concerned with those “who seek after power & gain under the pretense of government & Religion.” Clearly the Danbury Baptists viewed their free exercise not as a right but as a gift bestowed by the government.
In Jefferson’s reply, he assured the Danbury Baptists that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses built a “wall of separation between church and State.” In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), Justice Black wrote:
In Reynolds v. United States (1878), the Court wrote that Jefferson’s Danbury letter “may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [first] amendment thus secured.”
H/T: Austin Cline.