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Past Presidents on The Wall of Separation

In honor of President’s Day, Americans United for Separation of Church and State put together a list of quotes from various presidents regarding religious liberty as it pertains to government. It’s a wonderful list including presidents from Washington to Grant to Carter.

The article starts off with this introduction…

Most people know that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were great champions of church-state separation. But did you know that James K. Polk had some interesting things to say, as did U.S. Grant?

Some of my favorite quotes from the list:

James K. Polk: “Thank God, under our Constitution there was no connection between Church and State.” (Diary entry, Oct. 14, 1846)

Theodore Roosevelt: “I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be nonsectarian and no public moneys appropriated for sectarian schools.” (Speech, Oct. 12, 1915)

Lyndon B. Johnson: “I believe in the American tradition of separation of church and state which is expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. By my office – and by personal conviction – I am sworn to uphold that tradition.” (Interview with Baptist Standard, October 1964)

Check out the rest of list to see some thoughts from our past presidents.

These quotes are an important reminder that, despite the preferential treatment the religious right feels they deserve when they claim the United States is a “Christian nation,” our Constitution was very explicit, both in what it says and what it doesn’t say. There is no mention of any gods or creators… no mention of the Christian religion or the Ten Commandments… no mention of any special rights for Christians or any religion. It does, however, explicitly say that no laws can be passed “respecting an establishment of religion” and that government cannot “prohibit the free exercise thereof.”

Those two clauses in the First Amendment of our Constitution, called the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause,  are generally considered the foundation of our wall of separation between church and state. As Justice David Souter said in a 1994 Supreme Court case, Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet, “government should not prefer one religion to another, or religion to irreligion.”

So, even putting aside the irrational, baseless nature of many claims of theistic religions, our country’s founding document gives no religion any preferential treatment by the government or, indeed, any preference in the general running of our country. If Christians (or any other religion, though fundamentalist Christians are the ones who seem to whine the loudest about this issue) want their ideas to be seriously considered, then they should give serious reasons for their consideration.

…and quotes from the bible are most definitely not serious reasons.

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