July 13th, 2008 at 4:44 pm
A fairly intense conversation regarding church-state relations is currently focused on the American founders’ “original intent.” Did the founders intend to guarantee religious liberty through an institutional separation of church and state or did they merely intend to keep one any religious viewpoint from becoming America’s “official religion”?
This debate is contexted in part by the struggle between secularists who believe that church and state should be separated by an impassible barrier and religious conservatives who depict separation of church and state as fiction constructed by liberal Supreme Court justices. Caught between these two polarities are diverse Baptists who have some sense of religious liberty as a Baptist distinctive but who might also lament the secularity of post-modern America and the loss of “the good old days” when public school children were asked to bow their heads for teacher-led prayers and Bible readings.
For Baptists who value religious liberty through separation of church state, it is always important to understand as clearly as possible what we mean by that phrase. Part of that understanding involves an honest quest for truth regarding original intent, and in particular, a way to evaluate fairly the contention that church-state separation is a myth. What should we make of the books, articles, and websites which claim that the founders really intended to establish a “Christian America”? Through a maze of alleged quotations from the founders themselves to this effect, how can we find our way to some sense of confidence about the founders’ true original intent? Church-state scholar Derek Davis examines one website line by line with the not-so-surprising conclusion that most of the author’s “quotes” are misquoted or so wrenched from their original contexts that the conclusions drawn are ill founded.
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