Majority opinion in the United States Supreme Court case Everson v Board:
The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or…
The phrase “separation of church and state” comes especially from the 1500s, and was a product of the Reformation in Europe.
In the fourth century A.D., the government took control of the church and began to establish specific doctrinal tenets by law, making the church an official organ of government and using coercion and brutal penalties against those who did not submit to government-established theology.
That abhorrent practice predominated until some religious leaders began to oppose it in the 1300s. Eventually, over a span of two-and-a-half centuries, numerous individuals in different nations across Europe raised their voice against the government union of church and state.
After all, God Himself had separated the two institutions, placing Moses over civil affairs and Aaron over spiritual ones; and when King Uzziah tried to combine the two functions in 2 Chronicles 26, God Himself struck him down, thus reaffirming the institutional separation He had established. (Those European leaders and their followers who objected to many of the unBiblical operations of both the state and the state-established and state-run church became known as “Dissenters”.)
The first recorded usage of the separation phrase occurred during the reign of King Henry VIII of England. Henry had sought a divorce, but when the church rightly denied it, Henry established his own government-run church and awarded himself the divorce. The Parliament also passed laws decreeing who could and could not participate in the Lord’s Supper and other sacraments, even deciding who could and could not preach the Gospel. The Rev. Richard Hooker objected, and is credited with being the first to use the separation phrase, demanding that the government stay out of what was rightly the church’s jurisdiction.
Since those who came to America afterwards were largely Dissenters and generally held the same view as their Dissenting leaders in Europe, the separation phrase was widely used in America for the next century-and-a-half, especially in objecting to British attempts to establish official theology or British-run churches in America.
The most frequently referenced American source for the contemporary usage of the separation phrase today is an 1802 letter written by President Thomas Jefferson to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, in which he assured them that because of “the wall of separation between church and state” the government would not interfere with or inhibit their religious practices or expressions, whether occurring in private or public. But in 1947, the Supreme Court reversed the traditional use of this phrase, for the first time allowing the government to interfere with and even prohibit religious practices and expressions, especially when occurring in public – a complete reversal of the historic meaning of the phrase and its usage both by Jefferson and those in previous centuries. Consequently, the modern application of this phase bears nearly no resemblance to either its historical or Biblical origins.
Two days after Jefferson wrote his separation letter, he attended worship services in the U. S. Capitol where he heard the Rev. John Leland preach a sermon.
For the next 150 years, federal courts followed Jefferson’s intent and attached his separation metaphor to the Free Expression Clause of the First Amendment, thus consistently upholding public religious expressions. However, in 1947, the Supreme Court reversed itself and began applying the phrase to the Establishment Clause instead, thus causing federal courts to remove rather than preserve public religious expressions.
-THOMAS JEFFERSON -
“And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have lost the only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?"
"[N]o power over the freedom of religion … [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution." Kentucky Resolution, 1798 
"In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government." Second Inaugural Address, 1805 
"[O]ur excellent Constitution … has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary." Letter to the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1808 
"I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions … or exercises." Letter to Samuel Millar, 1808
"power to prescribe any religious exercise… . must rest with the States”
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that 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 and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."
Question With BOLDNESS, Tell the truth, SMASH THE LIES!~
Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government. Public servants, at such a distance, and from under the eye of their constituents, must, from the circumstance of distance, be unable to administer and overlook all the details necessary for the good government of the citizens; and the same circumstance, by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite the public agents to corruption, plunder, and waste. And I do verily believe that if the principle were to prevail, of a common law being in force in the United States (which principle possesses the general government at once of all the powers of the state governments, and reduces us to a single consolidated government), it would become the most corrupt government on the earth. You have seen the practices by which the public servants have been able to cover their conduct, or, where that could not be done, delusions by which they have varnished it for the eye of their constituents. What an augmentation of the field for jobbing, speculating, plundering, office building, and office hunting would be produced by an assumption of all the state powers into the hands of the general government!
The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the states are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign nations. Let the general government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization, and a very unexpensive one—a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants.”
– Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to Gideon Granger, August 13, 1800,
“vion really procured him immortality of fame and reverence. The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ levelled to every understanding, and too plain to need explanation, saw, in the mysticisms of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from it’s indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power and pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason that nonsense can never be explained. Their purposes however are answered. Plato is canonized; and it is now deemed as impious to question his merits as those of an Apostle of Jesus. He is peculiarly appealed to as an advocate of the immortality of the soul; and yet I will venture to say that were there no better arguments than his in proof of it, not a man in the world would believe it. It is fortunate for us that Platonic republicanism has not obtained the same favor as Platonic Christianity; or we should now have been all living, men, women and children, pell mell together, like beasts of the field or forest. Yet `Plato is a great Philosopher,’ said La Fontaine. But says Fontenelle `do you find his ideas very clear’? `Oh no! he is of an obscurity impenetrable.’ `Do you not find him full of contradictions?’ `Certainly,’ replied La Fontaine, `he is but a Sophist.’ Yet immediately after, he exclaims again, `Oh Plato was a great Philosopher.’ Socrates had reason indeed to complain of the misrepresentations of Plato; for in truth his dialogues are libels on Socrates.”
Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, July 5, 1814
“You surprise me with the account you give of the strength of family distinction still existing in your State. With us it is so totally extinguished, that not a spark of it is to be found but lurking in the hearts of some of our old tories ; but all bigotries hang to one another, and this in the Eastern States hangs, as I suspect, to that of the priesthood. Here youth, beauty, mind and manners, are more valued than a pedigree.”
– Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1814 January 24
“The objects of finance in the United States have hitherto been very simple; merely to provide for the support of the government on its peace establishment, and to pay the debt contracted in the Revolutionary war, a war which will be sanctioned by the approbation of posterity through all future ages. The means provided for these objects were ample, and resting on a consumption which little affected the poor, may be said to have been sensibly felt by none. The fondest wish of my heart ever was that the surplus portion of these taxes, destined for the payment of that debt, should, when that object was accomplished, be continued by annual or biennial re-enactments, and applied, in time of peace, to the improvement of our country by canals, roads and useful institutions, literary or others ; and in time of war to the maintenance of the war. And I believe that keeping the civil list within proper bounds, the surplus would have been sufficient for any war, administered with integrity and judgment. For authority to apply the surplus to objects of improvement, an amendment of the Constitution would have been necessary. I have said that the taxes should be continued by annual or biennial re-enactments, because a constant hold, by the nation, of the strings of the public purse, is a salutary restraint from which an honest government ought not to wish, nor a corrupt one to be permitted to be free. No tax should ever be yielded for a longer term than that of the Congress wanting it, except when pledged for the reimbursement of a loan. On this system, the standing income being once liberated from the Revolutionary debt, no future loan nor future tax would ever become necessary, and wars would no otherwise affect our pecuniary interests than by suspending the improvements belonging to a state of peace.
This happy consummation would have been achieved by another eight years’ administration, conducted by Mr. Madison, and executed in its financial department by Mr. Gallatin, could peace have been so long preserved. So enviable a state in prospect for our country, induced me to temporize, and to bear with national wrongs which under no other prospect ought ever to have been unresented or unresisted. My hope was, that by giving time for reflection, and retraction of injury, a sound calculation of their own interests would induce the aggressing nations to redeem their own character by a return to the practice of right. But our lot happens to have been cast in an age when two nations to whom circumstances have given a temporary superiority over others, the one by land, the other by sea, throwing off all restraints of morality, all pride of national character, forgetting the mutability of fortune and the inevitable doom which the laws of nature pronounce against departure from justice, individual or national, have dared to treat her reclamations with derision, and to set up force instead of reason as the umpire of nations. Degrading themselves thus from the character of lawful societies into lawless bands of robbers and pirates, they are abusing their brief ascendency by desolating the world with blood and rapine. Against such a banditti, war had become less ruinous than peace, for then peace was a war on one side only. On the final and formal declarations of England, therefore, that she never would repeal her orders of council as to us, until those of France should be repealed as to other nations as well as us, and that no practicable arrangement against her impressment of our seamen could be proposed or devised, war was justly declared, and ought to have been declared. This change of condition has clouded our prospects of liberation from debt, and of being able to carry on a war without new loans or taxes. But although deferred, these prospects are not desperate. We should keep forever in view the state of 1817, towards which we were advancing, and consider it as that which we must attain. Let the old funds continue appropriated to the civil list and Revolutionary debt, and the reversion of the surplus to improvement during peace, and let us take up this war as a separate business, for which, substantive and distinct provision is to be made”
– Jefferson’s Letter to John W. Eppes, [on War and Taxes], Sep 11, 1813
“the way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to [perform best]. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and power into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian senate. And I do believe that if the Almighty has not decreed that man shall never be free, (and it is a blasphemy to believe it,) that the secret will be found to be in the making himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence by a synthetical process, to higher and higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical. The elementary republics of the wards, the county republics, the State republics, and the republic of the Union, would form a gradation of authorities, standing each on the basis of law, holding every one its delegated share of powers, and constituting truly a system of fundamental balances and checks for the government. Where every man is a sharer in the direction of his ward-republic, or of some of the higher ones, and feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day; when there shall not be a man in the State who will not be a member of some one of its councils, great or small, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power be wrested from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte.”
– Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, Feb 2, 1816
“The organization of our county administrations may be thought more difficult. But follow principle, and the knot unties itself. Divide the counties into wards of such size as that every citizen can attend, when called on, and act in person. Ascribe to them the government of their wards in all things relating to themselves exclusively. A justice, chosen by themselves, in each, a constable, a military company, a patrol, a school, the care of their own poor, their own portion of the public roads, the choice of one or more jurors to serve in some court, and the delivery, within their own wards, of their own votes for all elective officers of higher sphere, will relieve the county administration of nearly all its business, will have it better done, and by making every citizen an acting member of the government, and in the offices nearest and most interesting to him, will attach him by his strongest feelings to the independence of his country, and its republican constitution. The justices thus chosen by every ward, would constitute the county court, would do its judiciary business, direct roads and bridges, levy county and poor rates, and administer all the matters of common interest to the whole country
These wards, called townships in New England, are the vital principle of their governments, and have proved themselves the wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self government, and for its preservation.”
– Thomas Jefferson, to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816
“From my acquaintance with that country, I think I am able to judge, with some degree of certainty, of the manner in which it will have been received. Southward of the Chesapeake it will find but few readers concurring with it in sentiment, on the subject of slavery. From the mouth to the head of the Chesapeake, the bulk of the people will approve it in theory, and it will find a respectable minority ready to adopt it in practice; a minority, which, for weight and worth of character, preponderates against the greater number, who have not the courage to divest their families of a property, which, however, keeps their consciences unquiet. Northward of the Chesapeake, you may find here and there an opponent to your doctrine, as you may find here and there a robber and murderer; but in no greater number. In that part of America, there being but few slaves, they can easily disencumber themselves of them; and emancipation is put into such a train, that in a few years there will be no slaves northward of Maryland. In Maryland, I do not find such a disposition to begin the redress of this enormity, as in Virginia. This is the next State to which we may turn our eyes for the interesting spectacle of justice, in conflict with avarice and oppression: a conflict wherein the sacred side is gaining daily recruits, from the influx into office of young men grown and growing up. These have sucked in the principles of liberty, as it were, with their mothers’ milk; and it is to them I look with anxiety to turn the fate of this question. Be not therefore discouraged. What you have written will do a great deal of good: and could you still trouble yourself with our welfare, no man is more able to give aid to the laboring side. The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, since the re-modelling of its plan, is the place where are collected together all the young men of Virginia, under preparation for public life. They are there under the direction (most of them) of a Mr. Wythe, one of the most virtuous of characters, and whose sentiments on the subject of slavery are unequivocal.”
– Thomas Jefferson letter to Price, 7 August 1785
“During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.”
– Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address 1801
Thomas Jefferson in defense of a weak Judiciary
“the way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and power into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian senate. And I do believe that if the Almighty has not decreed that man shall never be free, (and it is a blasphemy to believe it,) that the secret will be found to be in the making himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence by a synthetical process, to higher and higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical. The elementary republics of the wards, the county republics, the State republics, and the republic of the Union, would form a gradation of authorities, standing each on the basis of law, holding every one its delegated share of powers, and constituting truly a system of fundamental balances and checks for the government.”
– Thomas Jefferson’s Letter To Joseph C. Cabell Feb 2, 1816
“During the contest of opinion through which we have passed the animation of discussions and of exertions has sometimes worn an aspect which might impose on strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think; but this being now decided by the voice of the nation, announced according to the rules of the Constitution, all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good. All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions”
– Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address 1801
Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long-lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others, and should divide opinions as to measures of safety. But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world’s best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest Government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.
Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter — with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens — a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”
– Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address Feb 30 1801