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What is separation of church and state?

Thomas Jefferson once penned a private letter to a colleague wherein he used this phrase “separation of church and state.” This phrase does not exist in any founding document for America. The United States Supreme Court has used it at times in cases involving religion, but support for the phrase is ideological, not legal.

There are modern-day advocates of secularism, or rejection of religion, who use the deep and rich connection between a religious people and a free society to point out the times when these natural relationships have been abused.

Avid secularists often turn to hyperbole such as “the Inquisition” to emphasize what they consider to be a breach in the boundaries that should exist between church and state. American founders were highly sensitive to these boundaries. They consciously avoided creating a national religion for the United States of America – and this avoidance of an official state religion is the common standard for the meaning of “separation of church and state.” Again, secularists look to extend this meaning to exclude any religious sentiment from the public square, a view most people find unreasonable and extreme.

Dig deeper:

Article: Relationship between church and state

Book: Historical writings on the separation of church and state

Podcast: Separation of church and state


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