The United States Constitution and The Bill of Rights or any other of the founding documents doesn’t contain the words, “separation of church and state”.
The term is most notably when Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptists – January 1, 1802 to reply to their concerns of a state religion. This letter has been often taken out of context to mean no praying in school and things of a similar nature when read in full (click here to see) it easy to see it was about not having a state religion. He was never meant to remove religion from the state. He was removing state from religion.
“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.”
Commonwealth v. Nesbit, 1859
identified those actions into which if perpetrated in the name of religion the government had legitimate reason to intrude: human sacrifice, concubinage, incest, injury to children, advocation and promotion of immorality, etc. In orthodox religious practices whether public prayer, the use of the Scriptures, congregating in public groups for religious acts etc. the government was not to interfere.
Reynolds v. United States
98 U.S. 145 (1878)
“Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere religious opinion, but was left free to reach religious actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.”
“the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order.”
In these two sentences is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the church and what to the State.
The First Amendment protected Reynolds religious belief, but it did not protect religious practices that were judged to be criminal such as bigamy. Those who practice polygamy could no more be exempt from the law than those who may wish to practice human sacrifice as part of their religious belief.
Reynolds was a Mormon and was found guilty of polygamy even when it was approved by his religious beliefs because religious beliefs don’t allow you the freedom to live outside the law.
Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)
In this case the Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists was submitted as evidence but they chose not to refer to prior cases that it was submitted in. All prior cases were to keep and protect religious values in society. Also, most importantly, this time they didn’t use the full letter and only used the eight words, “a wall of separation between Church and State” and was clearly taken out ot context. Which this resulted in:
“The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable.”
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962)
The word church from Thomas Jefferson’s now eight word only letter, “a wall of separation between Church and State” became redefined. Prior,for over 170 years, church in this statement was meant as “a federally established denomination.” Now its new meaning became “any religious activity in public.” Which has now taken what was never part of The United States Constitution or any other founding documents and perverted it to have a whole new meaning that is actually in opposition to The United States Constitution. This is what let the following cases to happen.
Stone v. Graham (No. 80-321) November 17, 1980
“Posting of religious texts on the wall serves no such educational function. If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.”