American Minute with Bill Federer JAN. 1 - A Giant Block of Cheese and Separation of Church and State
American Minute with Bill Federer
JAN. 1 - A Giant Block of Cheese and Separation of Church and State
1, 1802, the people of Cheshire, Massachusetts, sent a giant block of
cheese to President Thomas Jefferson, being presented by the famous
Baptist preacher, John Leland.
Leland was then invited to preach to the U.S. Congress and the
President in the Capitol - the subject of his talk being "separation of
church and state."
Baptists had been particularly persecuted in colonial Virginia, as Francis L. Hawks wrote in his Ecclesiastical History, 1836:
dissenters in Virginia experienced for a time harsher treatment than
the Baptists. They were beaten and imprisoned, and cruelty taxed
ingenuity to devise new modes of punishment and annoyance."
many Baptist ministers were harassed and their church services
disrupted that James Madison introduced legislation in the Virginia
Legislature, October 31, 1785, "A Bill for Punishing Disturbers of
Religious Worship," which was passed in 1789.
Colonial Virginia had an "establishment" of the Church of England, or "Anglican Church" from 1606 to 1786.
Establishment meant mandatory membership, mandatory taxes to support it, and no one could hold public office unless a member.
time, lax enforcement allowed "dissenting" religious groups to enter
Virginia, the first being Presbyterians and Quakers, followed by German
Lutherans, Mennonites and Moravian Brethren, then finally Baptists.
John Leland, who considered running for Congress, wanted an Amendment to the Constitution protecting religious liberty.
reportedly met with James Madison near Orange, Virginia, and upon
Madison's promise to introduce what became the First Amendment, Leland
persuaded Baptists to support him.
John Leland, in his Rights of Conscience Inalienable, 1791, demanded not just toleration, but equality:
man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought
to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his
conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of
judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise,
let men be free."
George Whitefield's First Great Awakening Revival, a Second Great
Awakening Revival took place in Jefferson's Albemarle County.
Presbyterian and Methodist revival meetings were held, with even
Jefferson's daughter, Mary, attending a Baptist revival preached by
Madison, wife of James Madison, reported that in 1774 Jefferson dined
with Baptist Pastor Andrew Tribble at Monticello, where Jefferson
commented that Baptist church government:
"...was the only form
of pure democracy that exists in the world...It would be the best plan
of government for the American colonies."
the Revolution, Anglican ministers had sided with King George III, who
was head of the Anglican Church. At this time, patriotic parishioners
began to migrate from "established" churches into "dissenting" churches.
Jefferson was baptized, married and buried in the Anglican Church, as
recorded in his family Bible, he started in 1777, the Calvinistical
Reformed Church in the Albemarle County Courthouse, even drawing up its
His novel idea was for it to be a "voluntary" church, supported only by attendees.
memorandum book shows he contributed to their evangelical pastor, the
Rev. Charles Clay, as well as to missionaries and other churches:
have subscribed to the building of an Episcopal church, two hundred
dollars, a Presbyterian, sixty dollars, and a Baptist, twenty-five
the Revolution, the Virginia legislature rewrote its laws to remove
references to the King. "Dissenting" churches lobbied Jefferson to
"disestablish" the Anglican Church.
Jefferson responded by writing his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom.
1779, fellow member of Jefferson's Calvinistical Reformed Church, Col.
John Harvie, introduced the Bill in Virginia's Assembly.
three of Jefferson's children died, then his wife in 1782, Jefferson
suffered severe depression, burned all of his wife's letters and
withdrew from politics.
Trying to help, Congress asked Jefferson
in 1784 to go France, which was going through its period of "French
infidelity" prior to the bloody French Revolution.
this, Jefferson leaned toward a liberal style "deist-Christianity,"
though in later life he was described simply as a "liberal Anglican."
Jefferson's bill, which he noted on his gravestone, passed Virginia's Assembly, January 16, 1786:
God hath created the mind free...All attempts to influence it by
temporal punishments...are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author
of religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to
propagate it by coercions on either, as was in His Almighty power to
do...Be it enacted...that no man shall...suffer on account of his
disestablishment of the Anglican Church would never have passed had not
Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury split the popular Methodist movement
away from the Anglican Church in 1785.
There were notable leaders
who resisted "disestablishing" the Anglican, or as it was now called,
Episcopal Church, such as Governor Patrick Henry. This movement was
later termed "antidisestablishmentarianism."
Virginia built it first Jewish Synagogue in 1789 and first Catholic Church in 1795.
John Leland helped start Baptist churches in Connecticut, which had an establishment of the Congregational Church until 1818.
The Baptist church in Danbury, Connecticut, petitioned President Jefferson, October 7, 1801:
is at all times and places a Matter between God and Individuals - That
no man ought to suffer in Name, person or effects on account of his
religious Opinions...But Sir...what religious privileges we enjoy...we
enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights..."
Danbury Baptists continued:
we are sensible that the President of the united States is not the
national Legislator and...cannot destroy the Laws of each State; but our
hopes are strong that the sentiments of our beloved President...like
the radiant beams of the Sun, will shine & prevail through all these
States...May the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you
at last to his Heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious
On January 1, 1802, Jefferson wrote his famous letter agreeing with Danbury's Baptists:
with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and
his God, that he owes account to none other for faith or his worship,
that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not
opinions, I contemplate with solemn 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 and
"Adhering to this expression
of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of
conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those
sentiments which tend to restore man to all his natural rights,
convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties. I
reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the
common Father and Creator of man."
were familiar with Jefferson's metaphor "wall of separation," as
Baptist founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, used it in his Bloody Tenet of Persecution for Conscience Sake, 1644:
under the Old Testament... and...Christians under the New
Testament...were both separate from the world; and that when they have
opened a gap in the hedge, or wall of separation,
between the garden of the Church and the wilderness of the world, God
hath ever broken down the wall itself...And that therefore if He will
ever please to restore His garden and paradise again, it must of
necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world."
viewed the "wall" as limiting the federal government from
"intermeddling" in church government, as explained in his letter to
Samuel Miller, January 23, 1808:
"I consider the government of
the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from
intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline,
or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no law shall
be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion, but
from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to
the United States (10th Amendment)."
no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in
religious discipline, has been delegated to the General (Federal)
government...Every religious society has a right to determine for itself
the times for these exercises, and the objects proper for them,
according to their own particular tenets."
federal government was not limited, though, from spreading religion in
Western territories, as April 26, 1802, Jefferson's administration
extended a 1787 act of Congress where lands were designated:
the sole use of Christian Indians and the Moravian Brethren
missionaries for civilizing the Indians and promoting Christianity."
And again, December 3, 1803, during Jefferson's administration, Congress ratified a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians:
the greater part of the said tribe have been baptized and received into
the Catholic Church...the United States will give annually, for seven
years, one hundred dollars toward the support of a priest of that
religion, who will engage to perform for said tribe the duties of his
office, and also to instruct as many of their children as possible...And
the United States will further give the sum of three hundred dollars,
to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church."
When John Adams' wife died, Jefferson wrote to him, November 13, 1818:
term is not very distant, at which we are to deposit...our sorrows and
suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with
the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and
never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy
Twelve years before his death, Jefferson shared his personal views to Miles King, September 26, 1814:
have heard it said that there is not a Quaker or a Baptist, a
Presbyterian or an Episcopalian, a Catholic or a Protestant in heaven;
that on entering that gate, we leave those badges of schism behind...Let
us be happy in the hope that by these different paths we shall all meet
in the end. And that you and I may meet and embrace, is my earnest
Over time, brilliant legal minds have used Jefferson's words to prohibit Jefferson's beliefs.
Jefferson wrote in the Declaration: "All men are endowed by their Creator," yet in 2005, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, ruled students could not be taught of a Creator: "to preserve the separation of church and state."
use Jefferson's phrase "separation of church and state" to remove
national acknowledgment of God, despite Jefferson's warning against that
very thing, as inscribed on the Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC:
"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?"