Ron Paul And The Separation Of Church And State

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) sees a war on religion being waged by the elitist, secular Left. Paul claims the “separation of church and state” is a phrase taken out of context from Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. According to Paul, courts have misread and distorted the meaning of the first amendment so that children are banned from praying in school, courthouses are prohibited from displaying the Ten Commandments, and citizens are prevented from praying before football games.

From Paul’s congressional website, he claims that the “separation” doctrine is based upon a phrase taken out of context from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists on January 1, 1802.” Taking a phrase out of context from a letter containing only five sentences is going to be a tough argument to support. Jefferson wrote:

… I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

This seems straightforward and self-contained. Jefferson is saying that the establishment and free exercise clauses build a wall of separation. The “taken out of context” argument is not supported. The “taken out of context” argument is simply a dismissive, throw-away line to a devastatingly inconvenient historical fact.

In The War on Religion, Paul writes:

The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers.

Besides Jefferson, the writings of other founding fathers have expressed similar sentiments regarding the separation of church and state. In Detached Memoranda, James Madison wrote:

Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.

In a letter to Edward Livingston, Madison wrote:

Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

In The War on Religion, Paul continues:

Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government’s hostility to religion.

The number of references to God in the Constitution: zero. Paul must use a different definition of “replete.” The references to “Nature’s God” and “their Creator” in the Declaration of Independence appeal to Deists, Unitarians, as well as Christians.

In The War on Religion, Paul also writes:

Throughout our nation’s history, churches have done what no government can ever do, namely teach morality and civility.

The moral support of slavery, provided by Southern churches, gives lie to this statement. Churches don’t teach morality, they exist to support their parishioners who, in turn, support the church.

In 1773, Rev. Isaac Backus, a Baptist preacher and leading orator of the American Revolution, advocated for the separation of church and state by saying:

And where these two kinds of government [ecclesiastical and civil], and the weapons which belong to them, are well distinguished. and improved according to the true nature and end of their institution. the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued;

There is a war, but it is not a war on religion, it is a war on the separation of church and state. Those who want to impose religious law, be it sharia or Mosaic, on all citizens must first tear down the wall of separation. They are chipping away bit by bit at our nation’s heritage of separation.

While Glenn Greenwald highlights several admirable Paul policy positions and, while any candidate is a compromise with our own personal policy concepts, the separation of church and state is up near the top of my can’t-compromise list. Religion limits civil liberties for imaginary reasons. The surest way to lose many of our cherished civil liberties is to end the separation of church and state and let religious leaders determine the rules.

H/T: Theocracy Watch.

102 thoughts on “Ron Paul And The Separation Of Church And State”

  1. David Corpus,

    Wow. 1 Timothy is an appropriate guideline for Paul but apparently the Establishment Clause of 1st Amendment is lost on him. Thanks for the excellent post and interesting find on the Paul speech.

    And by interesting I mean disturbing.

  2. Ron Paul is a Christian Nationalist, and he wants us to accept when he puts his Bible before our Constitution. He is also a liar, because he tells us he won’t do it- yet he has been doing it all along. Two examples: Ron Paul’s 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010 “We The People Act.” If this were to pass, this completely destroys the Separation of Church and State by revoking rights protected by the Constitution and enforced Federally. It forbids all federal courts from hearing cases on abortion, same-sex unions, sexual practices, and establishment of religion, unless such a case were a challenge to the Constitutionality of federal law. It makes federal court decisions on those subjects nonbinding as precedent in state courts, and forbids federal courts from spending money to enforce their judgments.

    This is what “State’s Rights” are about. It allows “Red” States to drift off into theocracies while taking away federal protection of their rights.

    In 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011, Ron Paul introduced the Sanctity of Life Act, which would have defined life as beginning at conception at the Federal level. He promotes State’s Rights, but he likes Federal laws to enforce his religious beliefs. <-

    I am personally offended by how he speaks regarding nonbelievers in this video:
    Ron Paul speech at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Conference in Des Moines, Iowa — October 22, 2011

  3. While you can try your best to argue that Ron Paul wants to intertwine Church and state, you cannot say that he wants to impose blue laws on everybody. All the man is saying is that it is ok to pray at school and football games, and that the 10 commandments are very good (despite your religious affiliation) guidelines to rule your life by. Particularly the first five dealing with man’s interaction with his fellow man (thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not murder, etc.) It is not at all an “I wanna impose my religious beliefs on everybody” type thing. KEEP IN MIND, that Paul believes strongly that the harm principle is the only legitimate basis for law. So, he’s saying that you can do stuff like smoke pot if you want, as long as it doesn’t directly and measurably harm the person or property of anybody else. You can smoke pot if you want, and you can pray at school to whoever you worship if you want. Does that sound anything like the “Ron Paul” you are describing here? non-aggression principle. live it.

  4. I wear a giant cross necklace to school everday. No one cares, no ones asks, and some of my friends have even said “nice cross” whom I know to be non-religious. I am allowed to pray whenever the heck I feel like, and no person in my school has the authority to tell me otherwise. I could organize a prayer with a couple students as long as I ask them if they want to participate privately. We are not allowed to get a large portion or try it at an event, but a club after school is fine, as long as there is a teacher supervisor (and the supervisor cannot participte.)
    It is the same with any other public place in the United States. If someone WERE to tell you that you can be religious anymore (which Ron Paul obviously fears) then you can simply say “no” and they can do nothing about it. I have lots of religious freedom and I use it; Ron Paul doesn’t see that at all and wants more.
    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  5. Ken, you say “Since the First Amendment prevents congress from doing anything at all concerning religion, it follows that, under the Tenth Amendment, such matters are left to the people and the states.”

    The courts have held that the first amendment constrains the states as well as the federal government, through the fourteenth amendment. This is termed the “incorporation doctrine”.

  6. His views on religion a deal breaker? Actually, indefinite detention by the government without charge, drug policies that have turned our nation into a war zone, a military industrial complex that strangles our government, along with crony capitalist monopolies, actually scare me a lot more than the threat of a theocratic takeover in the US. As someone else pointed out, Paul is not advocating a theocracy or the imposition of religious views on anyone, which is contrary to libertarianism. But Paul is right on the issues that matter most in terms of civil liberties and national war spending, and while I disagree with his view that a week old fetus is a “person” (which incidentally he couches in rational rather than religious terms – certainly worthy of debate) as well as his take on government’s role in maintaining social safety nets, his Republican opponents have correctly pointed out that he would have trouble implementing those, while he would be most able to end our longstanding (and insane) foreign policy and dampen down the associated state security apparatus.

  7. Thanks Mike,

    While I do disagree with Dr. Paul’s position on abortion, I dont think there is a blanket gov’t solution, different people believe different things. If some states prevented it via legislation, people can move or go to a state that allowed it. I think all he is advocating is state choice. As I said I do not agree with Dr. Paul’s position on this matter, isn’t the non aggression axiom the fundamental tenet of libertarians?

    Next, I fail to see where your drawing these conclusions? I have read and watched much of Dr. Paul, and the only church matters o have ever heard him espouse are marriage should be a church matter/civil unions or that before the government, health care was provided by churches. As for a dominionist, if you have an interview of Dr. Paul saying things that even lend to these views, I’ve never seen it. Having said that I would lose a lot of respect for him if you do have said info.

    Lastly, is there a candidate out there now who would do as much for liberty as Paul? Obama just signed that disgrace “NDAA”, and is no less a neo-con than Bush was. On the republican side the same can be said except for Ron.

  8. Mike Ok,

    what I Am talking about should be obvious to any who know, whatever we are doing isn’t working.

    I will take each paragraph you wrote:

    “Have we as humans constructed societies, cultures and governments to raise us out of the mire of “might makes right” that was the condition of most of our history and pre-history?”

    We? Did you? or did you think you hired a third party for the tasks you say here?
    And, history? Pre-history? Were you there? If you weren’t you would be a liar to confirm any of it based on here-say.

    “Are these cultural constructs an advantage to us in allowing many of us to escape lives that are harsh, brutal and short?”

    Constructs are to no advantage to all if they are constructed to chiefly benefit the constructor. The balance of your statement is based on speculation, and therefore has no possibility for application.

    “Shall we as humans revert to a status as totally self interested individuals, with no limits or structure to guide us?”

    This is a great question, if applied to the self. There can only be One answer. And that answer is obvious to any who sees themselves when they see another.

    The answer to the next paragraph is solely dependent on the answer to the previous.

    “Finally, is this the life you want yourself and all of us to lead?”

    This question is not applicable.

    “Based on your above comments, I would think that the logical extension of what you might propose is a society that would make the myths of the “Wild West” tame in comparison.”


    “If that is the case then, in the end your life, your families lives and all you possess are subject to the whim of others more powerful who might covet them.”

    This is already the case. The travesty in what is, at this point, is the ability for “others more powerful” to do it legally.

    Humanity would be ruled by the law of the jungle and unless you have great resources, are a mighty warrior and have excellent weaponry, you become somebody elses’ bitch.

    Speculation. Or is it? Who are you? Do you have a purpose that is true? Or are you a part of the fiction ?

    I don’t expect you to answer this question, or the others, as my “opinion” is you are the latter.

    I want to be wrong about that.

  9. Mike, proposition or prediction? Do You deny what You propose would happen is a prediction based upon conquest as basic. Is that the choice you make?

    1. “Mike, proposition or prediction? Do You deny what You propose would happen is a prediction based upon conquest as basic. Is that the choice you make?’

      Law DeSchilde,

      What are you talking about? Could you please flesh out whatever point it is you are making, because frankly it is not clear to me.

  10. “You’re kinda missing the point. By over-interpreting the separation of church and state concept (which, by the way, is NOT literally in the constitution), people feel they cannot make any religious or spiritual expressions publicly anymore.”

    First, wrong. The doctrine of Separation of Church and State is literally in the 1st Amendment. How it is applied is further refined by case law (as mentioned above).

    Second, what people feel and what is reality can be vastly different. This is one of those times. People are free to make all the religious or spiritual expressions they like as long as

    1) they don’t use government monies to do so and

    2) they don’t force their beliefs upon other via the mechanism of government and the law.

    There is a reason that both the Jennifer Keeton case and the Schultz v. Medina School District case (both of which have the would-be theocrats panties in a bunch) failed on the basis of free speech arguments: this isn’t a free speech issue. You are free to say what you like on your own dime and your own time, but you are not free to use the government to force your beliefs on others.

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