By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Separation of state and church. At one time or another, most of us have heard, uttered, invoked, discussed or argued this idea, without fully understanding the origin of the concept. Many people are unaware that the actual words “separation of church and state” are not contained in the United States’ Constitution. In fact, there are those that will argue that it is contained in the First Amendment. It is not.
There was however, the reference to the “establishment clause,” which was intended to separate church from state. It is found in the First Amendment. In looking at Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, the establishment clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.
The phrase “separation of church and state” is attributed to Thomas Jefferson. In a letter, he wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, he wrote of “building a wall of separation between Church and State.” No different than the founding fathers, many Americans have struggled with how the role of faith fits in our nation. After all, the word “God” is on our money, legislative sessions often open with some form of prayer, and we swear on a bible when being sworn into public office. Although we are a nation, that does not condone a single national religion, we are a country comprised of many people of faith.
Today, our faith is being tested. The fair application of the constitution, Supreme Court appointments, and whether we can trust legislators to represent our interests is being tested. Our faith in our voting systems and our very form of democracy is being tested. Our devotion to a man rather than the ideals and principles of our nation is being tested. As men and women of good conscious, moral character and basic human decency, we and our faith are being tested. And whether that faith is based in religion or mankind, it is possible to become disillusioned and faithless, in both.
We can become weary of the disappointments and individual acts of cruelty, indifference and disregard. Our nation’s physical health, the teetering economy, and the loss of more than 200,000 lives, in seven months, in one of the most advanced nations on earth, can shake our faith to its core. Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake can make us question our faith, not necessarily in our God, but in our fellow man. But if I’ve learned nothing, I’ve learned to remain faithful. I also believe that faith, without work, is dead. Therefore, I encourage you to get busy creating the country you want to see. Reconnect with what inspires you and challenges you. Don’t lose the faith, but use it, to power through.