What Does The Separation Of Church And State Actually Mean?

When you ask someone about the separation of church and state, you’ll get an answer. Ask someone else, and you’ll receive a different answer. Someone else, and another different answer. Rinse and repeat. Does anyone really know what the separation of church and state is? What does it mean? Who coined the phrase? Not the United States Constitution. Not the Bill of Right. And not the Supreme Court. The separation of church and state is technically mentioned by none of these.

It was Thomas Jefferson who first used the phrase. It’s so meaningful today because Jefferson was a proponent of religious freedoms–whether you were Christian or not.

A lot of religious folk see the separation of church and state as a way to keep government out of their church’s affairs, and not the other way around. A lot of non-religious folk see the separation of church and state as something that should prevent the government from making commentary on any and all affairs involving religion (like preventing Trump from calling Muslims rapists or suggesting that they all want to kill Americans).

Who’s right? Again, it depends on who you ask. It’s best to give everyone a little bit of credit for their opinions, because the divisiveness is actually what keeps the wall in place.

The First Amendment opens with a concise line, which is almost impossible to interpret wrongly because of how straight-forward it is: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It’s about law, and nothing else. So Trump can say what he wants. Unfortunately the freedom of religion has been used as a means to unjustly discriminate against any number of people. Claim that something is contrary to your religion, and you can get away with a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise–especially if you’re Christian.

The First Amendment was never intended to provide those the religious zealots among us with any special rights. It also wasn’t meant to take away anyone else’s freedoms. In 1947, this amendment’s meaning was transferred from the Federal government to all state governments as well. This ruling effectively prevented religious organizations from any privileges they once enjoyed.

If you think the First Amendment has been used to attack you or someone you love (whether through freedom of religion or freedom of speech), then it may be the time to take a strong legal defense. Speak with a lawyer about the options available.