On January 1, 1802, Thomas Jefferson addressed the following words to the Danbury Baptist association in Connecticut.
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”
On January 14, 2008, Mike Huckabee addressed the following words to a group of Christians in Michigan.
Separation of church and state has become a hot button phrase for many conservatives because of its frequent abuse by the ACLU to thwart the free expression of religion, rather than to protect it. This has driven some conservatives to deny that the first amendment actually establishes a separation of church and state, but Thomas Jefferson was pretty clear about that. So let me clarify that my opinion on this question is based on Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation, not the ACLU’s. (One can twist any precept beyond sense or recognition, but that doesn’t mean the original precept was unsound.)
I revere the principles on which this nation was founded, which define this nation and make this nation great. Those principles were profoundly influenced by the Judeo-Christian heritage of the culture in which our nation was conceived and brought forth. But I would not revere those principles less if had they originated from some other source. They stand on their own, and their merit is intrinsic. We do not need to amend the Constitution to insert God into it.
The reason the founding fathers believed it was important to separate church and state is because there is nothing more personal than one’s relationship with God, and it is nobody else’s business, least of all the government’s. Different religions, and even different denominations within the same religion, interpret God’s will differently. It is not the role of government to be the arbiter of the will of God, but rather to protect the rights and liberties of its citizens. The inherent danger of making the state an instrument of enforcing any interpretation of God’s will is that you end up with Shari’a, rather than representative government. As an inveterate American, I prefer representative government.