Dr. Dobson Helps Larry King Understand 'Separation of Church and State'
by Wendy Cloyd, assistant editor
Focus founder correctly points out it's not anywhere in a foundational document.
In an interview turned history lesson, Dr. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family, helped talk-show host Larry King understand -- over his protests -- that "separation of church and state" is not found in the U.S. Constitution.
During last week's hour-long conversation on Larry King Live, King quizzed Dr. Dobson on myriad topics including O.J. Simpson's rejected book, the fall of evangelical leader Ted Haggard and Michael J. Fox's TV ad for embryonic stem-cell research. But when the discussion turned to attempts to redefine marriage -- the TV host made it an issue of separation of church and state.
KING: Why is it a state institution rather than a religious institution? Why is the state involved?
DOBSON: Well, it's both. It is both.
KING: But we have a separation of church and state.
DOBSON: Beg your pardon?
KING: We have a separation of church and state.
DOBSON: Who says?
KING: You don't believe in separation of church and state?
DOBSON: Not the way you mean it. The separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. No, it's not. That is not in the Constitution.
KING: It's in the Bill of Rights.
DOBSON: It's not in the Bill of Rights. It's not anywhere in a foundational document. The only place where the so-called "wall of separation" was mentioned was in a letter written by (Thomas) Jefferson to a friend. That's the only place. It has been picked up and made to be something it was never intended to be.
What it has become is that the government is protected from the church, instead of the other way around, which is that church was designed to be protected from the government.
KING: I'm going to check my history.
And well he should, according to Bruce Hausknecht, judicial analyst for Focus on the Family Action. He said King bought into a misconception that is far too common. Many Americans continue to believe the phrase "separation of church and state" is found in the U.S. Constitution, illustrating the need for a better civics education.
"Dr. Dobson's statement regarding separation of church and state was entirely accurate," he said. "Most Americans do not realize that it wasn't until 1947 that the U.S. Supreme Court imposed that metaphor -- 'separation of church and state' -- upon the country as law."
The court actually lifted the phrase from an 1802 letter President Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists in Connecticut. They had asked him to help protect the rights of religious minorities. "Jefferson politely declined in his letter to use his office for such influence," Hausknecht said, "explaining that the First Amendment prohibited him from doing so because it had created a 'wall of separation of church and state.' Although it's not completely clear among historians as to the complete scope of Jefferson's meaning, because of the letter's specific historical context it's accurate to say, as Dr. Dobson did, that Jefferson felt the First Amendment protected the church from government interference -- not the opposite."
Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told CitizenLink that he shares Jefferson's perspective.
"The words 'separation of church and state' are not found in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence or the Articles of Confederation or any document of our history," he said. "The First Amendment to our Constitution basically embodies a concept of separation -- meaning that the state should stay out of the affairs of the church and of the relationship that men have with their God."
In modern law, he said, many use "separation of church and state" with the intent to separate God, moral values and Christian principles from the state.
"It means none of that," Moore said. "The way people use 'separation of church and state' is not historically or legally accurate. What it does mean is that the state can't interfere with the church and can't interfere with our mode of worship and our articles of faith. And that's what 'separation of church and state' means."
Jefferson and the Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration and the Constitution gave recognition to God, he said. It's only been in the last few decades that God has been removed from the public square.
"Even the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist," Hausknecht said, "called 'separation' a 'metaphor based on bad history' as he urged his fellow justices to abandon its use in First Amendment Establishment Clause cases."
Instead of being reviled by the secular Left, he said, conservatives should be understood and appreciated as trying to restore the original understanding of the Constitution.
"We have let judges rewrite the First Amendment," Moore said, "to actually forbid that which it was meant to allow."
Such has become clear legally, historically and logically, he said.
"To let judges rewrite the First Amendment," Hausknecht said, "is simply to abdicate our own responsibility as citizens to ensure that the Constitution continues to say and mean what it has always said."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:For a transcript of Dr. James Dobson's appearance on Larry King, click here.
CNN has posted a few highlights of the program.
Click here to read Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists.(NOTE: Referral to Web sites not produced by Focus on the Family is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the sites' content.)