Separation of Church and State in America

Church / May 25, 2015 / No Comments

What the Separation of Church and State in America Really Means, and Why it Matters

One of the most interesting details of the controversy over the constitutional separation of church and state is that the term never appears in the Constitution itself. The term “separation of church and state” is part of an address made in writing by Thomas Jefferson, which was delivered to the Danbury Baptist Association. Baptists hold the separation of church and state as one of the central themes of their theology and traditions, and were worried about the encroachment on their rights by members of other churches a the state level.


Baptists were a minority in Connecticut, and they were suspicious of the Congregational majority’s motives in drawing up the constitution of the State of Connecticut without any mention of freedom of religious observance. They feared that the melding of religious and political power into one entity that they had thrown off in the person of George III of England could be recreated in their state unless it was explicitly forbidden. Thomas Jefferson was newly elected as the third president of the United States, and as one of the primary authors of the United States Constitution, the Danbury Baptists hoped he could shed some light on the purpose behind several of the entries in the Bill of Rights.


Interestingly, Jefferson’s reply is less than half as long as the Danbury Baptist Association’s letter asking for his help and guidance in the matter. Because the reply is so closely written and unambiguous, it has been relied upon as a key document in interpreting the first, ninth, and tenth amendment to the US Constitution. In it, Jefferson quotes the constitution while appending an explanation that has become one of the most quoted and hotly debated documents in American history:


Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.


When the authors and signatories of the Constitution placed limits on the power of the government by adding the Bill of Rights, many of their contemporaries objected. They felt that any list of rights suggested that these were all the rights that a citizen was entitled to. The idea that rights were granted to citizens by the government bothered them, and for that reason, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments were added to specify that rights that were not mentioned in the federal constitution should be assumed to be reserved at the state level, and beyond that, to individual citizens.


This is what prompted the Connecticut Baptists to seek affirmation of their rights as a religious minority to the head of the federal branch of the government. They believed, and Jefferson re-affirmed, that the federal government was designed to remain neutral in matters of religious conscience. They hoped that Jefferson could throw his weight into the conflict that might arise at the state level over the same rights and privileges. Jefferson’s phrase of a wall of separation between church and state is much stronger and more sharply defined than the terms used in the First Amendment, which was covering more ground about freedom of speech and other rights, and somewhat blunted its message about religious freedom.


A survey of the writings of prominent Americans involved in the government at the time would have found as large a fear of the government meddling in religious affairs as religions meddling in government affairs. Benjamin Franklin, in particular, wrote that he felt that any particular religion was always based on its appeal to its adherents, and if it lost its appeal, the particular sect should fade away to be replaced with another one. He believed that an appeal for a civil power to enforce religious dogma was a sign of a bad religion, unable to stand on its own merits.


It’s easier to understand the founding fathers views on the separation of church and state if you understand the term Deism. The Declaration of Independence and the following documents that make up the working framework of the United States government are filled with terms like Nature’s God, the Creator, the Supreme Judge, and George Washington’s favorite, Divine Providence. These are all terms that are favored by Deist. A Deist is someone that believes in a Divine Creator who made the universe and determined the laws of nature that ruled over it. A Deist doesn’t believe that there is a God that meddles in human affairs, or supernatural manifestations of a God, or basically that any man’s opinion on what God is trumps another man’s opinion. These are ideas that were very popular during that time period, often called the Enlightenment.


When George Washington was sworn in as the first president, there was a delay in the ceremony because no one had brought a Bible to swear on. Swearing on a Bible was the traditional way to aver that you were testifying to a higher authority that what you are saying was true, and since Washington was swearing an oath, it was natural for him to take it on a Bible. None of the founding fathers would have said that swearing on a Bible means that the Bible itself is a rulebook that is being followed. The president is simply testifying in front of a higher power that he will faithfully follow the rules drawn up by a duly elected government based on secular legislation.


During the 1950s, the government added many references to God on currency and ceremonial rites like the Pledge of Allegiance. In the intervening years, these have been viewed by many as an encroachment on the separation of church and states, especially as more people identify themselves as atheists, and would prefer no reference to God or religion of any kind in any public forum or document. Legally, these references to God have been judged to be a form of oath taking, not a directive for citizens to worship any particular version of God, or even to acknowledge that there is a God at all. Very finely drawn distinctions have been made between referring to God and religious observance in historical terms rather than in a spirit of worship or reverence. The Supreme Court has ruled that displays of the Ten Commandments from the Bible can be displayed in public places like courthouses, but only because they are part of the tradition of jurisprudence, not because their religious significance is paramount. Another example of where the separation of church and state comes into play is in the context of drunk driving or criminal cases in general. For years, the courts ordered defendants to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as condition of bail or as part of a sentence in court. However, that changed due to the fact that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an organization that relies on the principals of God and religion in the treatment of alcoholism. Therefore, for the court to order attendance at AA meetings, it was by default sanction the religious aspects of AA which was violation of the separation of church and state, according to Marin County DUI Defense Attorney Michael Rehm. In most courts now, they order the defendant to attend “self-help” meetings, whether those are AA meetings, or another secular organization.


Our founding fathers would probably be confused and disconcerted by legislation like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1997 and signed by President Bill Clinton. It tried to allow exceptions to following all laws if they were in conflict with legislation, but in practice it has become almost unworkable. The bill was found partially unconstitutional at the state level, but it’s still in effect at the federal level. Various state governments have enacted their own versions of it since. By trying to enumerate specific ways in which religious adherents can avoid being forced to follow federal and state laws due to their convictions, the framers of the Constitution would probably have seen it as like trying to amend the Bill of Rights with thousands of additional exceptions. It’s likely that they would have desired that laws be drawn up on a secular basis, and no religion would serve as an exception to following them.

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History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church

Church / May 9, 2015 / No Comments

Beliefs and History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in America

Brief History

The history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in America began in a movement in the 1830s and 1840s during the crucial period of the Second Great Awakening and was officially brought to life in 1863. The church itself has grown tremendously over the years and had its original base in New England and opened itself up to become an international organization. Many new developments that occurred in the 20th century led it to become a powerhouse Christian denomination. While many religious movements were formed in the early 19th century, the Seventh-day Adventist Church opened itself up to the world, which not everyone was open to.

William Miller, who was a Baptist preacher, told his followers that Jesus was returning on October 22, 1844 which shocked many people. They were not simply surprised that there was an official date set for the return of Jesus, but the idea of Him returning was completely unheard of and an extremely radical idea. Most churches in the 19th century preached that the Second Coming of Jesus was simply a myth, and that there was no truth or reality to the claims. However, the Millerites (individuals who followed William Miller’s beliefs) believed that the Second Coming was not only coming, it was inevitable.

William Miller

They believed that with the new understandings of the seventh-day Sabbath and state of the dead, proved there would be a literal Second Coming. These beliefs caused turmoil in the religious communities all over the country. When October 22, 1844 arrived, William Miller and his followers waited for Jesus to return as for seen in their prophecy. While Jesus did not return in the physical sense, many of his followers believed that He had returned in the spiritual sense and not the literal sense. Then they began to believe that the date was right all along, they simply had predicted the wrong event.

They turned then to the Scripture, seeking truth in what their hearts truly believed. They came to the conclusion that Jesus did not return to earth that day in October, but had started the last phase of his ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. The Adventists truly and firmly held true to the idea that God was puling all of the strings and making all the Earth’s events happen. Regardless of their nay-sayers, the Seventh-day Adventist Church began to grow bigger and fuller of life and hope.

In the 1840s, there were only a few hundred members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. By 1863 there were over 3,000 of them. This was the year they were officially established and became a real denomination. They had the ability to overcome all of the adversity while creating a denomination that is still alive and strong today, but one that has spread to great places all over the world.


Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

The Seventh-day Adventists hold the Bible close to their hearts as their only path to the teaching of their Holy Scriptures. The Adventists have 28 fundamental beliefs that they adhere strictly to as these beliefs give them the ability to practice what they believe the Holy Scripture to be all about. While all of them are not listed here today, here are some of the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church of America.

Number one on their list of 28 fundamental beliefs is the Holy Scripture. They firmly believe that the written Word of God gives divine inspiration through the holy men of God. In essence, the words from the Holy Scripture are in fact the word of God himself, and should be practiced and followed and is the only worthy record of God’s acts in history. This should be the Scripture in which all holy men and women live by and will give them the knowledge necessary to pursue everything they will ever really need throughout their lives.

The second fundamental belief on the list is the Holy Trinity. There is only one God but He is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is immortal, all-knowing, and present in everyday lives. He is infinite, so much that humans are unable to comprehend His existence. He will always be worthy of worship according to the Seventh-day Adventist Church of America.

Understanding the concept of God being the creator of all things is also on the list of fundamental beliefs for Adventists. The Scripture revealed what He did when he created heaven and earth as well as all the living beings on the Earth. On the seventh day of that week, He rested. Then the Sabbath was created as a memorial of His work. The first man and woman were created in the image of God and they were in charge of caring for His new creation.

The Nature of Man is also one of the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church of America. They firmly believe that both woman and man were created in God’s image and with a unique power to think and do exactly as God would. These individuals are dependent on God for breath, life, and everything they need to exist. If these individuals disobeyed God, they were severely punished and even sentenced to a brutal death. The Adventists believe that one must learn from their mistakes and suffer and adhere to the consequences set by God Himself.

The idea of Church worship is also on the list for the Adventists. They believe that it is a community who believes in Jesus Christ and confess their heart and soul to Him. This is a way to join together with like-minded Christ followers and worship and praise the Lord. Practicing the Holy Scripture in and out of church, is the only true way to live out God’s plan. To the Seventh-day Adventist Church of America, church is the body of Christ and a community where He is the leader and his followers can praise him and show their love and respect to Him.

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