Q & A on Separation of Church and State

1- Define the concept of “separation of church and state”
Separation of Church and State is one of the governing principles under the Constitution of the United States, which forbids any interference of religion in affairs of the state. At the time of the inclusion of this provision in the American constitution, it was seen as a revolutionary and progressive policy to adopt.

2- Where did it originate? Is it the US constitution, what did Thomas Jefferson mean when he spoke of maintaining “a wall of separation between church and state?”
First coined by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to Danbury Baptists Association in 1802, the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ does not appear as such in the Constitution. But, in the First Amendment to the constitution, it is noted that Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, which in spirit translates to the sentiment expressed by Jefferson in his letter. Later, when the Supreme Court quoted Jefferson’s original phrase in one of its cases, it got assimilated into American legal parlance.

3- What is the secular or liberal point of view?
This governing principle is celebrated by liberal sections of American society. At the time of the country’s founding a vast majority of its people were believers of Christian faith. So, while separation of church and state was accepted at a nominal level, there was seldom any need to enforce it. But as more waves of immigrants arrived on the country’s shores, bringing with them their native religious and cultural legacies, this principle found more frequent application in matters of public dispute. To this extent, liberal politicians and commentators much appreciate this separation.

4-What was the intent of the founding fathers
Even among the group of intellectuals now recognized as the founding fathers of the country there were arguments and disagreements. Some were pro-slavery while others were against it. Some were devout Christians while some others were non-religious and secular. So they were able to foresee how religious establishments could come in conflict with administrative works. And to avoid such conflicts in the future, the founding fathers made it clear that this wall of separation should be imposed.

1 2 3