How The First Amendment Has Been Misused To Attack Religious Liberties

by John Hawkins | April 7, 2005 3:09 am

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” — The First Amendment

One of the odd things about the First Amendment is that it is the Amendment to the Constitution that Americans are most familiar with. Yet, that very same Amendment, which was designed at least in part to protect religious liberties, has been clearly and unambiguously turned on its head and used as the primary tool of those who wish to drive religion from the public square.

The “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” clause of the Constitution means exactly what it says: that Congress will not establish a national religion like the church of England or the theocracy that rules Iran.

So to try to use the First Amendment to ban prayer in schools, public displays of the Ten Commandments or Christmas carols in public schools isn’t just wrong, it’s contrary to the very purpose of the Amendment.

Put another way, maybe you think prayer in schools is a good idea or maybe you think it’s a bad idea. You may love the idea of school kids singing “Away in a Manger” at Christmas time or you may think they should stay away from that sort of song. But whatever your opinion may be, there is certainly no constitutional prohibition of those activities.

Quite frankly, that shouldn’t even be a controversial assertion given that when Jefferson, Madison, and Hancock were around, the Bible was used as a text book and some states had their own established religions.

Unfortunately, a lot of people have been snookered on this subject by the misleading use of the phrase, “separation of church and state.” That phrase does not appear in the Constitution; it’s from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists[1] and his use of “separation of church and state” is nothing more than a way of restating, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Newt Gingrich elaborates in a bit more detail here[2]:

“I suggest you go to the Jefferson Memorial, which on three of its four walls has a quote about God. Around the top of the memorial, it says the following: “I have sworn upon the altar of God Almighty, eternal hostility against all forms of tyranny over the minds of man.” And I say to my secular friends, “What do you think Jefferson might have meant by the term ‘God Almighty’?”

Now, because they’ve got tenure in the kind of universities that David (Horowitz) describes, they promptly say to me, “This was actually a stunningly subtle use of language,” because if they actually believe that Jefferson meant God Almighty,’ then he would have meant Creator…

…They will then say. “Aha, Jefferson wrote a letter to the (Danbury Baptists) saying that there should be a ‘wall of separation’ between church and state,” which is exactly right, and by which Jefferson meant we should not have a nationally funded (established) church, which I agree with. They then mean separation of church and state has now become anti-religion. Well, what they won’t tell you is that two days after Jefferson signed that letter, he got in his carriage at the White House, rode up Pennsylvania Avenue, went to the U.S. House of Representatives Chamber, and went to church, because the U.S. House was used as a church until after the Civil War. Furthermore, Jefferson turned over the Treasury every Sunday to be used as a church, so it’s a little hard to explain how Jefferson thought you couldn’t say, “One Nation, Under God,” or have a prayer, or do a variety of really radical things, like posting the Ten Commandments.”


The meaning of the First Amendment in regard to religion has been grievously twisted and that’s something the American people should be told about.

  1. from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists:
  2. here:

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