The idea of the Wall of Separation between church and state was introduced by Thomas Jefferson, the United States’ third president, in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists. The United States was in fact founded on (though not always faithful to) the idea of religious tolerance. Jefferson realized what many others did at the time and still do today: the way to achieve religious freedom is through a secular government far removed people’s relationships with their various deities.
In a frightful turn of events for Americans, Trump’s choice for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh is on record agreeing with former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s dissenting opinion on Roe v. Wade. More alarmingly, and as a sinister foreshadowing of the inevitable assault on secularism and the liberties of free people, he praised the former Chief Justice for rejecting the idea of separation of church and state.
Though referring to Thomas Jefferson as a 19th century slave-owner glosses over a great deal of minutia around his character and accomplishments, the irony remains. It is as depressing as it is comical that people like Jefferson who lived over 200 years ago were in some respects more enlightened than Trump’s choice for Supreme Court Justice. But what else can one expect from those who value religious dogmatism over Enlightenment principles?
Here is an excerpt of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, in which he expertly refers to the First Amendment:
“…Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ʺmake no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,ʺ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State…”
It should be noted that Kavanaugh is 53 years old and, if confirmed (which is not unlikely), we may have to wait decades for the good ol’ days of religious tolerance and secularism to return to America. In the meantime, we can plan on dealing with the repercussions of having as a Supreme Court Justice not only a Bible-thumper, but also a man obviously beholden to Donald Trump for decades to come.
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Special thanks to Andrew Hall who runs the Patheos blog Laughing in Disbelief!