Words of Founders, Baptists and Others about Church and State

Words of Founders, Baptists and Others about Church and State

Early Baptists

“An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state,
confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and
civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.”

–Roger Williams (founder of First Baptist Church
in America),
The Bloody Tenet of Persecution (1640).

“When they [the Church] have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of
separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world,
God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the Candlestick, etc., and
made His Garden a wilderness as it is this day. And that therefore if He will
ever please to restore His garden and Paradise
again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the
world, and all that be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the
wilderness of the World.”

–Roger Williams, “Mr. Cotton’s Letter Lately Printed, Examined and
Answered,” The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, Vol. 1, 108

“Religious matters are to be separated from the jurisdiction of the
state, not because they are beneath the interests of the state but, quite to
the contrary, because they are too high and holy and thus are beyond the
competence of the state.”

–Isaac Backus, colonial Baptist from New England,
An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty (1773).

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. …
Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see
that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than
toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some
have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be
equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

–John Leland, “A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia,” as cited in
Forrest Church, The Separation of Church and State, 92 (2004).

The Church ought to be regarded as “a complete republic of itself, not
to be controlled by civil government…”

–John Leland, colonial Baptist from Virginia, “Christocracy,” The
Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, 278 (cited in Rogers, Traditions of
Church-State Separation:…, The Journal of Law & Politics, Vol. XVIII, no.
1, 277-321).

“Experience…has informed us that the fondness of magistrates to
foster Christianity has done it more harm than all the persecutions ever

–John Leland, quoted in Gaustad, A Disestablished Society: Origins of the
First Amendment, vol. 11, A Journal of Church and State (1969), 414.

“These establishments metamorphose the church into a creature, and
religion into a principle of state, which has a natural tendency to make men
conclude that Bible religion is nothing but a trick of state.”

— John Leland, Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious
Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law.

“Truth disdains the aid of law for its defense–it will stand upon its
own merits.”

–John Leland, Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious
Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law.

The Framers

“I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the
business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just
bounds that lie between the one and the other.”

–John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, 1689.

“Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but is always
the strongly marked feature of all…religions established by law. Take away
the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original

–Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, 1791.

The constitutional provision to ban a religious test for public office is
“a provision the world would expect from you in the establishment of a
System founded on Republican principles in an age so liberal and enlightened as
the present.”

–Charles Pinckney, delegate to the Constitutional Convention from South Carolina, quoted in Stokes and Pfeffer, Church and
State in the United States,

“The rights of conscience are a peculiar delicacy and will little bear
the gentlest touch of government’s hand.”

–Daniel Carroll, delegate from Maryland to the First Congress, 1 ANNALS OF
CONG. 757-58 J. Gales ed., 1834 (August 15, 1789).

“[I]f I could now conceive that the general government might ever be so
administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be
persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual
barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of
religious persecution. …[E]very man, conducting himself as a good citizen,
and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be
protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own

–George Washington, letter to the United
Baptist Church’s
General Committee, May, 1789, cited in Forest Church,
ed., The Separation of Church and State, 106.

“We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all
religions…shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors
and power…we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character
and the state of society.”

–John Adams, Letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785.

“…the government of the United
States is not, in any sense, founded on the
Christian religion.” —Treaty of Tripoli,
1797, ratified and signed by John Adams, cited in The Works of John Adams
(Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1856), volume IX, 636.

“I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a
legal ascendancy of one sect over another.”

–President Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799.

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence the act of the Whole American people
which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus
building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

–Thomas Jefferson, 1802 letter to Danbury Connecticut Baptist Association.

[T]o compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of
opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”

–Thomas Jefferson, A bill for the Establishing of Religious Freedom.

“Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume
authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the General Government.”

–President Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Rev. Samuel Miller, January 23,

“The Religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of
every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may
dictate…It is the duty of everyman to render to the Creator such homage…as he
believes to be acceptable to him. The duty is precedent, both in order of time
and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society…We maintain
therefore that in matters of Religion, no Man’s right is abridged by the
institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its

–James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,

“While we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to
observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an
equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which
has convinced us.”

–James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,

“Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the
support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the
Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the
powers of this world…”

–James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,

“Whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, &
the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total
separation of the Church and the State.”

–James Madison, letter to Robert Walsh, 1819 in Gaillard Hunt, ed. The
Writings of James Madison, v. VIII, 431-432.

“Religion flourishes in greater purity without than with the aid of

–President James Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822.

“The amendment was discussed, and rejected, the opponents of the amendment
having turned the feeling as well as judgment of the House [against] it by
successfully contending that the better proof of reverence for that holy name
[would] be not to profane it by making it a topic of legal discussion.”

–James Madison, on a provision to introduce Jesus Christ into a bill, undated
memorandum, cited in Forrest
Church, ed., The
Separation of Church and State, 136.

“Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between
ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.”

–President James Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822.

“When religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not
support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors
are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend,
of its being a bad one.”

–Benjamin Franklin, cited in Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States
(New York: Harper, 1950), vol. I, 298.

“Civil liberty can be established on no foundation of human reason which
will not at the same time demonstrate the right to religious freedom.”

–President John Quincy Adams, Letter to
Richard Anderson, May 27, 1823.

Various Presidential Affirmations of Religious Liberty

“It is my firm belief that there should be separation of church and state as we
understand it in the United
States—that is, that both church and state
should be free to operate, without interference from each other in their
respective areas of jurisdiction. We live in a liberal, democratic society
which embraces wide varieties of belief and disbelief. There is no doubt in my
mind that the pluralism which has developed under our Constitution, providing
as it does a framework within which diverse opinions can exist side by side and
by their interaction enrich the whole, is the most ideal system yet devised by
man. I cannot conceive of a set of circumstances which would lead me to a
different conclusion.”

–John F. Kennedy, in a letter to Glenn L. Archer, February 23, 1959.

“I believe in the American tradition of separation of church and state which
is expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. By my office—and by
personal conviction—I am sworn to uphold that tradition.”

–President Lyndon B. Johnson, interview, Baptist Standard, October 1964.

“The divorce between church and state should be absolute.”

–President James Garfield, quoted in Paul Blanshard, God and Man in Washington (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1960), 226.

“I have a deep belief that the First Amendment separation between church and
state is what guarantees the religious freedom of all people.”

–President Bill Clinton, campaign address, South Bend, Ind.,
September 1992.

“I believe in the separation of church and state and would not use my
authority to violate this principle in any way.”

–President Jimmy Carter, Letter to Jack V. Harwell, August 11, 1977, Box RM1, White House
Central Files, Jimmy Carter Library.

“The government ought to stay out of the prayer business.”

–President Jimmy Carter, press conference, Washington, D.C.,

“Thank God, under our Constitution there was no connection between Church
and State.”

–President James Knox Polk, in George Seldes, The Great Quotations, (New York:
Lyle Stuart, 1960), 169.

(On the interference of government with religion and vice versa) “We believe
that the cause of good government and the cause of religion suffer by all such

–Rutherford B. Hayes, statement as governor ofOhio, 1875.

“I am tolerant of all creeds. Yet if any sect suffered itself to be used for
political objects I would meet it by political opposition. In my view church
and state should be separate, not only in form, but fact. Religion and politics
should not be mingled.”

–President Millard Fillmore, Address during 1856 presidential election in
Robert J. Rayback, Millard Fillmore (Buffalo, N.Y.: Henry Stewart, Inc., 1959),

“Religion is a difficult matter to handle politically.”

–President Herbert Hoover, quoted in Carl Sferazza Anthony,
America’s First Families (New York: Touchstone
Books, 2000), 217.

Other Public Figures

“All religions united with government are more or less inimical to liberty.
All, separated from government, are compatible with liberty.”

–Henry Clay, address, U.S. House of Representatives, March 24, 1818.

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the
state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the
critic of the state, and never its tool.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Harper & Row, 1963).

“It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious
fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in
religion except to manipulate it.”

–Billy Graham, Parade (February 1, 1981).

“We will be a better country when each religious group can trust its members
to obey the dictates of their own religious faith without assistance from the
legal structure of the country.”

–Margaret Mead, anthropologist, Redbook magazine (February 1985).

“I’m so troubled, always, when I see people who are sure that they know
exactly what God’s plan for the world is, what political party God belongs to,
what God’s ideology is, and what God’s position on particular cases and
controversies might be.”

–Al Gore, VP, statement to civil liberties and religious leaders July 14,

Judicial Interpretation of First Amendment

“Jefferson’s use of the term “wall of
separation between church and state” may be accepted almost as an authoritative
declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured.”

–Reynolds v. United States
(1878), 98 U.S.
145 at 164.

“The very purpose of the Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects
from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach
of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be
applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free
speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental
rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no

West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette,
319 U.S.
624, 638 (1943).

Denominational Acceptance

“Church and state should be separate. The states owe to every church protection
and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends…The state has no right to
impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the
Christian ideal.”

–1963 Southern Baptist Convention Annual 269-281, Article XVII “Religious

Collection of Misquotes

“Christian nation” propagandist David Barton has issued a statement
conceding that the following twelve quotations attributed to prominent
historical figures are either false or at best questionable. (WallBuilders’
observations about the quotes are in parenthesis).

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was
founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the
gospel of Jesus Christ!

— Patrick Henry (questionable)

It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.

— George Washington (questionable)

Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the
teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be
otherwise. In this sense and to this extent, our civilizations and our
institutions are emphatically Christian.

— Holy Trinity v. U.S.
[Supreme Court] (false)

We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of
government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political
institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves …
according to the Ten Commandments of God.

— James Madison (false)

Whosoever shall introduce into the public affairs the principles of primitive
Christianity will change the face of the world.

— Benjamin Franklin (questionable)

The principles of all genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations are
to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man therefore
who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that book may be assessory to
all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer.

— Noah Webster (questionable)

There are two powers only which are sufficient to control men, and secure the
rights of individuals and a peaceable administration; these are the combined
force of religion and law, and the force or fear of the bayonet.

— Noah Webster (questionable)

The only assurance of our nation’s safety is to lay our foundation in morality
and religion.

— Abe Lincoln (questionable)

The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of
government in the next.

— Abe Lincoln (questionable)

A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the
liberties of America
than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they
cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to
surrender their liberties to the first external or eternal invader.

— Samuel Adams (questionable)

[this can be found in Harry Alonzo Cushing, ed., The Writings of Samuel Adams
(1908), Vol. 4, p. 124 — Cliff Walker, May 1, 2002]

I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred
Volume will make us better citizens.

— Thomas Jefferson (questionable)

is great because she is good. and if America ever ceases to be good, she
will cease to be great.

— Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America (definitely not in the
book; perhaps in other more obscure writings; questionable)

-Compiled by Kevin Boswell, 2005, with many thanks to

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