“Separation of Church and State,” this is by far one of the most misinterpreted phrases associated with “The Establishment Clause.” Some believe it to be drafted in the First Amendment of the Constitution and that there is to be a clear divide. However, the phrase “Separation of Church and State” does not show up in the amendment at all.
According to Dr. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, in their book “What if America were a Christian Nation Again,” the phrase was coined by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists on January 1802. The intention of Jefferson’s use of this phrase was to keep the state out of the Church’s business, not to keep the church out of the state’s business.
Read the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and it reads: Amendment 1 — Freedom of expression and religion — Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. That in itself should clear up the confusion.
You will find the free exercise clause and the establishment clause place restrictions on the government concerning laws they pass or interfering with religion. No restrictions are placed on religions except perhaps that a religious denomination cannot become the state religion. And as far as I am aware, the state has not.
Even Dictionary.com has defined Separation of Church and State as: The principle that government must maintain an attitude of neutrality toward religion. Many view separation of church and state as required by the First Amendment. The First Amendment not only allows citizens the freedom to practice any religion of their choice, but also prevents the government from officially recognizing or favoring any religion.
With all this information available, there are still a number of people who believe the phrase means that there should be a clear divide between the government and the church; that no government official should speak of church matters. Countless times I have had this phrase thrown at me personally. Some believe that a police chief should not speak publicly about his faith. Some have alleged I may impose my faith on my officers and potentially the community. That could not be further from the truth. If anyone reads my articles and turns their life over to Christ, that is outstanding, but I did not force anyone to do either. As or my officers, although they do share my love for Christ, it has never been, nor ever will be a condition of employment at our agency.
I will continue speaking of God every chance I get. He is the one who gave me my position and this platform. He gives me the words to pen on paper, or type on a screen. Far be it from me to discard that. My beliefs help me stay grounded. Although I sin daily and fall short of God’s glory, I am forgiven daily. My position as police chief is what I do, my position as a Christian is who I am. Shall I deny that for the sake of a few who confuse a simple clause? Never.
Since by definition, I am not in violation of any such Separation of Church and State related violations, I shall continue as I have as long as the good Lord wills it. May I remind those who continue to stand behind the clause, we pray before government proceedings at nearly all levels, from municipal councils to federal Supreme Court. I believe we need more prayer, it may lead to less conflict. Worth a try isn’t it.
James Fansler is Lake Placid police chief. He can be reached at email@example.com .