Thursday, April 26, 2012

A church service at the Capitol in Washington D.C.?
I thought I'd bring your attention to a little-known fact about the early government of the United States that most people either don't know or don't want to admit.  Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd President, has been touted as being one of the least religious of our founding fathers and the originator of the idea and term, "separation of church and state"

Yet during his administration and that of James Madison, the state became the church.. Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives, making it a habit to ride there every Sunday on horseback, rain or shine. In fact, it is said that Jefferson never missed a single church service, even in inclement weather. Odd for a man who wasn't religious at all and who supposedly wanted government to have nothing to do with religion. Hmmm.
Worship services in the House--a practice that continued until after the Civil War--were acceptable to Jefferson because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary. During the years they were held there, preachers of every denomination, including Catholics and a female evangelist  appeared. The evangelist, Dorothy Ripley, even delivered a camp meeting-style exhortation in the House to Jefferson, Vice President Aaron Burr, and a "crowded audience."

Throughout his administration, Jefferson also permitted church services in executive branch buildings and allowed the preaching of the Gospel  in the Supreme Court chambers.

Only a rational person could come to the conclusion that Jefferson wasn't at all against the melding of religion and government. From various documents and letters, including the Bill of Rights, it seems obvious that he and the other founders were simply against having an imposed national religion. In fact, by attending church services on public property, Jefferson consciously and deliberately revealed his support to religion as a basis for good republican government.


  1. Excellent post, MaryLu. You're right. So many people either misunderstand or want to interpret the term "the separation of church and state" to fit their own agendas. I don't believe our founding fathers ever thought of that term in the way it's being used in today's society. Thanks again, for another great fact. :)

  2. It's so sad that so many don't understand the true history of our country or what the Constitution actually says. My husband works for a non-profit that defends religious liberty and free speech, so we see it up close and personal.

  3. Thanks, Ladies. I'm always amazed how most people in the media as well as politicians and actors continually mention separation of church and state as a means to get God out of everything public. They have no idea what they are talking about! Still, I had no idea we used to hold church services in the Capitol. When I discovered that, I was thrilled. Anne, what organization does your hubby work for? Just curious.

  4. Thurs Apr 26th,
    "Afternoon, MaryLu."
    Well, not being an American ... thank-you so much for bringing this to light. This was really interesting to read !
    Imagine, never missing a Church service ... even in inclement weather ! And, via horseback !
    What an example Jefferson set !
    (And, that 'we' would be as diligent !)
    Thanks for sharing.
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  5. Why is it that the media never seems to want to get the facts straight? I don't get it!

    But I heard on the 700 club this morning that there is going to be a prayer rally in Philadelphia on September 26 (I think?). They are going to be praying for the country, for our misguided politicians, and for the next president to have a heart for God. Isn't that just wonderful?!

    P.S. I just finished Surrender the Dawn, and I just loved how you tied in Cassandra with Francis Scott Key. It was a great novel, but I have to say that out of all three from this series, my favorite is still Surrender the Night. It was cool to see Alexander's perspective about America changing after he saw the facts up front. I think that a lot of people today have lost sight of the original intentions of our forfathers and twisted every amendment and every word of the constitution to suit their selfish needs. I wonder how long will it be before God reminds them just exactly who is "boss" (if you'll forgive the expression) ?

  6. Thanks Brenda.. missed you this morning!

    Eszter, the media has their own agenda and are no longer interested in the truth. I'm glad you told me about September 26th. I've wondered if there was going to be a prayer and fast day for the November vote. I can't attend, but I can participate from home.
    Glad you enjoyed Surrender the Dawn! That series really sparked my patriotism! Yes, most people no longer even know or understand the original intent of our forefathers. It is sad. And our government has become more about greed and power then serving the people. I'm hoping and praying God can restore our country to its former glory, but I fear since we have kicked Him out of our public places, He may just give us what we wish. We must pray!

  7. 1. Using history to interpret the Constitution calls for considerable care. Some try to pass off the Supreme Court’s decision in Everson v. Board of Education as simply a misreading of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists–as if that were the only basis of the Court’s decision. Instructive as that letter is, it played but a small part in the Court’s decision. Perhaps even more than Jefferson, James Madison influenced the Court’s view. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”
    True enough, as you note, Jefferson attended religious ceremonies in the Capitol building. Caution should be exercised in assessing this historical evidence, since some are motivated to make more of things than may be warranted or even stretch the truth about them. The Speaker of the House did indeed announce in 1800 that the chaplains had proposed holding religious ceremonies in the House chamber on Sundays, the reason initially being that at the time there simply were no churches or other suitable buildings in all the Capitol. Such ceremonies were held and Jefferson attended some of them, and they continued for decades after churches had been built and thus the need to use the House chamber had passed. Contrary to many accounts, neither the Senate nor President Jefferson had a hand in the Speaker's decision. Not mentioned in some accounts as well is that the ceremonies often were as much social as religious in nature (at a time when Washington otherwise lacked much social life).
    All in all, as one would expect, the available historical evidence does not all point in the same direction. For instance, while Washington offered Thanksgiving proclamations, seemingly seeing no problem in that, Jefferson refrained from issuing any such proclamations for the very reason he thought the Constitution precluded it. Madison too preferred not to issue any such proclamations, but upon being requested by Congress to do so, reluctantly issued one, though taking pains to word it so as merely to encourage those so inclined to celebrate the day. He later almost sheepishly acknowledged that had been a mistake. Also, Congress appointed chaplains for the two houses of the legislature and for the army and navy.

  8. 2. Historical evidence of this sort can be seen in at least two ways. On one hand, some of it can be seen, as you seemingly urge, as evidence that the founders considered the government's actions to conform to the Constitution, thus indicating they did not intend the Constitution to prevent the government from taking actions of that sort with respect to religion. On the other hand, it can be seen as examples of early mistakes by Congress and the Executive, where they failed to conform to the Constitution. Mistakes of that sort are hardly unexpected or unusual. Note that Congress made two other similar mistakes during Madison's presidency, resulting in his vetoes of two bills neither of which would form a national religion or compel observance of any religion, on the ground that they were contrary to the establishment clause. While some in Congress expressed surprise that the Constitution prohibited Congress from incorporating a church in the town of Alexandria in the District of Columbia or granting land to a church in the Mississippi Territory, Congress upheld both vetoes. The government has made many such mistakes during our history, and continues to make them to this day.

    Madison discussed just this point in his Detached Memoranda. As it happens, he not only stated plainly his understanding that the Constitution prohibits the government from promoting religion by such acts as appointing chaplains for the houses of Congress and the army and navy or by issuing proclamations recommending thanksgiving, he also addressed the question of what to make of the government’s actions doing just that. Ever practical, he answered not with a demand these actions inconsistent with the Constitution be undone, but rather with an explanation to circumscribe their ill effect: “Rather than let this step beyond the landmarks of power have the effect of a legitimate precedent, it will be better to apply to it the legal aphorism de minimis non curat lex [i.e., the law does not concern itself with trifles]: or to class it cum maculis quas aut incuria fudit, aut humana parum cavit natura [i.e., faults proceeding either from negligence or from the imperfection of our nature].” Basically, he recognized that because too many people might be upset by reversing these actions, it would be politically difficult and perhaps infeasible to do so in order to adhere to the constitutional principle, and thus he proposed giving these particular missteps a pass, while at the same time assuring they are not regarded as legitimate precedent of what the Constitution means, so they do not influence future actions.

    In any event, the very fact that evidence and arguments can be advanced in support of both "sides" of issues like this is one of the reasons we have courts and call on them to resolve such issues. In this instance, the Supreme Court has done just that--decisively, authoritatively, and, in the most important respects, unanimously. In its jurisprudence, the Court has, in effect, followed Madison’s advice, though not his suggested legal theories. The Court has confirmed the basic constitutional principle of separation of church and state, while also giving a pass to the appointment of chaplains for the house of Congress and army and navy and the issuance of religious proclamations, as well as various governmental statements or actions about religion on one or another theory, e.g., ceremonial deism. Notwithstanding sometimes lofty rhetoric by courts and commentators about an impenetrable wall of separation, as maintained by the courts, that wall is low and leaky enough to allow various connections between government and religion. Indeed, the exceptions and nuances recognized by the courts can confuse laymen and lawyers alike, occasionally prompting some to question the principle itself, since decisions in various cases may seem contradictory (e.g., depending on the circumstances, sometimes government display of the 10 commandments is okay and sometimes not).