Ideological differences between segments of American society reveal a question on the role of personal religion, or theology, versus the constitutional role of government in the lives of Americans. Natural law, as explained by 17th century philosopher John Locke, is described as a basic set of principles based on the actions a reasonable man would take to insure his success or his ability to flourish. It is a set of general moral standards based on sound practical thinking. Also included are methods and processes which distinguish between acts that are morally right or morally wrong.
Most of the founders believed that man was to serve God and government was to serve man. Theological or faith-based norms and morals were recognized by the founders as social and personal feelings and beliefs, and as such, should be constitutionally separated from civil governance. George Washington stated in his farewell address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports……And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion…..reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
In 1801, a group of Baptists from Danbury, Connecticut wrote the letter to Thomas Jefferson concerning the First Amendment. Their plight revolved around an opinion where the state of Connecticut extended to them the ability to worship their Baptist theology as a state-granted privilege rather than a constitutionally guaranteed right. Jefferson’s response in January of 1802 did not address the state of Connecticut issue on religion; however, he emphasized that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution erected a wall of separation between the church and the State (Federal Government).
As can be seen by the history, faiths, and convictions of our founders, the Judeo-Christian philosophy of a very personal and private inner spirit between God and man is intended to be beyond the reach of the State, or government. If man is to serve God and government is to serve man, then the dichotomy of man’s moral and spiritual beliefs as opposed to his structured civil needs requires a wall separating the two distinct entities. The duties and rights given to man as a result from his relationship with God are very personal, inseparable, and not transferable to anyone else. The rights from God are natural, not foreign; they are unalienable. The unalienable rights given to man by the creator depicted in the Declaration of Independence are the natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The rights were so brazenly stated to let everyone know that there were areas of humanity where government could not infringe. These very personal, God-given rights were meant to be untouchable by any governing decree. It should be no surprise the Declaration of Independence incorporated man’s unalienable rights from God while the founders provided within a parallel Constitution that human necessity of limited civil governance by the State.
A man’s duty to his family, his church, and to his fellow man are personal and not unlike the relationship with his God. In personal dealings and faith, emotions influence our actions and persuade us to do what we reasonably think is morally right (natural law). The success of any government for a civil society requires that man separate his personal and emotional obligations from his civil duties. However, when man mixes what should be considered emotional and personal obligations with civil statutory law, the Constitution is threatened and the nation it governs begins to fail. Alexander Hamilton’s admonishment in the Federalist’s Papers rings true again; “…it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example (emphasis added), to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.” Social and emotional issues must be separated from civil affairs for any government expecting to be sustained more than two hundred years.