by Robert Morrison
April 8, 2013
In a letter of this date, a two-term President of the United States, writing to his predecessor, wrote this:
…the Theist, pointing to the heavens above, and to the earth beneath, and to the waters under the earth, asked if these did not proclaim a first cause, possessing intelligence and power; power in the production, and intelligence in the design, and constant preservation of the system; urged the palpable existence of final causes, that the eye was made to see, and the ear to hear, and not that we see because we have eyes, and hear because we have ears…
Well, as you will readily discern, dear reader, this is not President Obama’s or President George W. Bush’s accustomed style of writing.
This letter, dated April 8, 1816, was penned by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and addressed to his reconciled friend, John Adams. It’s worth parsing the eighteenth century language because it’s a keen insight into the minds of our Founding Fathers.
In this letter, the former president, Thomas Jefferson, one of the leading scientific minds of his day, rejects the atheism of some of the French philosophes with whom he shared so many ideas. He ascribes to the Creator “power in the production, intelligence in the design, and constant preservation of the system…”
Jefferson’s ideas of Intelligent Design were put to a court test in Dover, Pennsylvania, in 2005. The federal judge in that case came down hard against any students in the public schools learning what Jefferson actually believed about origins of our universe. The judge found Mr. Jefferson’s reasoning a form of religious indoctrination that was wholly unconstitutional.
Today, liberals routinely cite Jefferson’s “Letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptists as their source for all church-state jurisprudence. No matter that they have completely twistified (Jefferson’s own word) what he thought and what he wrote.
Noted author Eric Metaxas shows where such twistifying leads. It leads to a doctrine of religious freedom that is narrowly construed to permit “freedom of worship” and which at the same time comes down hard on “free exercise.” The First Amendment doesn’t just guarantee freedom of worship. It is broader than that.
Here’s a portion of Eric Metaxas’s recent speech at CPAC:
Let me begin with my hometown, Danbury, CT. Some of you know that Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptists in , in which he uses the phrase “separation of church and state” — and in case there is anyone who doesn’t know it, the sense in which Jefferson uses that phrase is actually the opposite of how it’s generally thought of today. Today we often hear that it means that the state needs to be protected from religion, and that religion should have no place in government or society.
Jefferson and the Founders thought the opposite. They knew that the State was always tempted to take over everything — including the religious side of people’s lives. So they put a protection in the Constitution that the government could not favor any religion over another… and could not prohibit the free exercise of religion.
They wanted churches and religions to be protected from the government — from Leviathan. Why? Because they knew that what people believed and their freedom to live out and practice one’s most deeply held beliefs was at the very heart of this radical and fragile experiment they had just launched into the world.
Okay, so where are the threats to Religious Freedom in America today? Well, for one thing, understand we are not talking about Freedom of Worship. In a speech 18 months ago, Hillary Clinton replaced the phrase Freedom of Religion with Freedom of Worship — and my hero and friend Chuck Colson noticed and was disturbed by it. Why? Because these are radically different things. They have Freedom of Worship in China. But what exactly is Freedom of Worship?
In my book Bonhoeffer I talk about a meeting between Bonhoeffer’s friend, the Rev. Martin Niemoller, who early on in the Third Reich was one of those fooled by Hitler. And in that meeting he says something to Hitler about how he, Niemoller, cares about Germany and Third Reich — and Hitler cuts him off and says “I built the Third Reich. You just worry about your sermons!”
There in a few words you have the idea of Freedom of Worship. Freedom of Worship says you can have your little strange rituals and say whatever you like in your little religious buildings for an hour or two on Sundays, but once you leave that building you will bow to the secular orthodoxy of the state! We will tell you what to think on the big and important questions. Questions like when life begins and who gets to decide when to end it and what marriage is… And if you don’t like it, tough luck! That’s Freedom of Worship and that have that in China and they had it in Germany in Bonhoeffer’s day…
Freedom of Worship is limited to the four walls of your church or synagogue. It creates the “naked public square” that the late Richard John Neuhaus warned about. It crushes civil society and puts everything under the power of the all-encompassing State.
In 2010, in celebration of the Fourth of July, the National Archives breathlessly informed us they had found an early draft of the Declaration of Independence. In that rough draft, Thomas Jefferson scratched out the word Subjects and replaced it with Citizens. The archivists were right to point to the significance of this change of language. It was the first time we Americans thought of ourselves as Citizens of a republic and not Subjects of a king.
Citizens govern themselves. Subjects have to obey Mandates from a distant HHS. Citizens have a right to free exercise of religion. Subjects are granted mere freedom of worship by the overawing power of the State.