Monday, August 30, 2010

Separation of Church and State is Dead?

In 1791 Thomas Jefferson led the fight for religious freedom and separation of church and state in his native Virginia. After a long and bitter debate, Jefferson's statute for religious freedom passed the Virginia state legislature.

In Jefferson's words, there was now "freedom for the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindu and infidel of every denomination." The bill guaranteed, in Jefferson's own words, "that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever."

It also guaranteed, as was the intent as stated in Jefferson's personal correspondence, that no one should suffer in any way for his "religious opinions or belief." When the First Amendment to the Constitution went into effect in 1791, Jefferson's principle of separation of church and state became part of the supreme law of the land.

Earliest legislation and several treaties entered into by the United States in those early years reflected and vigorously reinforced this position and should make very clear the intention of the founding fathers.

The following treaty seems the most apropo for these times.

In 1797 the Treaty of Tripole in Article 11 reads:

Article 11. As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Musselmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

The treaty was signed at Tripoli on November 4, 1796 and at Algiers on January 3, 1797, finally receiving ratification from the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797 and signed by President John Adams on June 10, 1797.

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