Separation of Church and State

“Separation of church and state” is a phrase used by Thomas Jefferson and others expressing an understanding of the intent and function of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

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The phrase “separation of church and state” is generally traced to a January 1, 1802 letter by Thomas Jefferson, addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper. In this letter, 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.”

 

But Jefferson wasn’t the first to articulate the idea.  That honor goes to founder of the first Baptist church in America, Roger Williams who had written in 1644 of “[A] hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”

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Roger Williams’s contribution to the separation of church and state is well known around the world, and is commemorated in Geneva, Switzerland.

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Statue of Roger Williams – University of Geneva, Switzerland.  Commemorating his being the founder of the concept of separation of church and state.

And, of course, all of us Cranstons know that Roger Williams is our great, great, great, . . . ., great grandfather.