Separation of Church and State

Separation of Church and State

Student’s Name


Separation of Church and State

Overview on the State and Church

Religion and government have been connected since the early centuries. These two forces usually go hand in hand in some countries when it comes to public administration. Today, there are still some religious bodiesthat claim that separating government and church is not a good idea. In Western countries specifically the United States, these two powerful forces have become separatedas explained inboth theory and application. Generally, the public supports the separation of church and state particularly in cases when the church interferes with the political decisions of thegovernment. However, there are instances in the past when it was the other way around and it was politics that controlled the church(Doerr, 2004, p.2).

This paper provides an analysis on how state and church affects each other directly. It will also discusses issue of state and church separation as well as the values, perspectives of philosophers, interpretation of the law and why church affairs must be separate from that of the  functions of  the state.


The separation of church and state isone of the most unnoticed and misinterpretedamong conventional American values. In Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, one of the main ideas he presented concerned the separation of church and state. The two others pertain to the need for momentary elected rulers, and the belief that abusive rulers will constantly be abusive. Paine’s principles on church and state separation remain very applicable in current times even though they were originally written in the1700s. He asserted the common sense on who protects whomin the church and state. Paine claimed that the public sees the concept of separation of church and state as a means to keep the church from interfering with political matters when in fact, it is politics that interferes with the work of religious groups(Devine, Jasnowski, Mason, Stites, &Wydeven, 2003, pp. 21-38). This idea of Paine emphasizes the common misconception of people regarding church and stateseparation and even today, the idea is still relevant.

Philosophers’ Perspectives


In Aristotle’s writing about the origin of democracy and politics, he discusses thata city-state as an important element of politics. He referred to a city-state as a community that aims for the common good. However, Aristotle asserted that a city-state or a political community is not possible if it is consists of slaves and masters. He believed that political leaders arecapable of giving protection to its people (Devineet al., 2003, p.147). Hence, equality and affection make thepolitical community’s existence possible.

When it comes to politics’ relation to religion, Aristotlestated that these two elements are directly related with each other.He referred to politics as the highest and most architectonic actionsince itaffects everyone in society. According to the philosopher, politics is an art where all other arts are secondary to it. One of the arts Aristotle pertained to is religion.He believed that religion is subordinate to politics. Hence, politics is thesuperior form of art as it has the power to rule the spiritual life ofpeople. Moreover, Aristotle said thatchurch matters such aschoice of the priests and templewardenare important (Devineet al., 2003). Thus, Aristotle believed that religion is a function by the state.

As this philosopher claimed, religion is aconstitution’s component ruled by political leaders which makes politics rule over other aspects in the community. In my opinion, Aristotle’s premise cannot be applied especially during present times given the liberal minds of the members of the younger generation. More people are aware of their human rights today. Moreover, politics is not superior to church given that both offer equal benefits to society. Hence, Aristotle’s argument is not applicable today.

John Locke

John Locke asserted that understanding political power in detail starts when a man’s function is clearly identified. He claimed that a man is bound by the natural lawand all are children of the supreme God. This philosopher believed that aperson is free from illogical and unjust laws and responsiblefor the interests of other people (Devineet al., 2003, p.161). Locke emphasized equality as first step in building a successful political system.

In his Letter Concerning Toleration, he explained the basis of his argument on theseparation of church and state(Locke, Shapiro, & Locke, 2003, n.p.). His first basis pertains to the Care of Souls wherein he asserts that a state can punish anyone according to crimes committed, but it cannot control people’s judgment. Therefore, a state has control over punishment, but it cannot dictate beliefs that it wants the people to believe in. Secondly, the Salvation of Souls is not the state’s function. In this premise, Locke asserted that political leaders cannot impose punishment against a person’s choice of religion. Locke’s last premise on this issue is valid even the first two premise doesn’t exist. He asserted that the freedom to choose a religion and that the state cannot interfere with this human right. Therefore, John Locke’s premises clearly support the separation of these two powerful forces.


In Book VII, Plato discussedpolitical justice through his work, The Republic. He identified an ideal society with three key classes of people. He believed that if this social status of people is properly arranged, an ideal society is possible. These classes pertain to three, namely the producers who are laborers, auxiliaries who are the warriors and guardians who are leaders.Each class must act upon its role where leaders must rule, auxiliaries must follow the leader’s commands, and producers must do their assigned tasks(Devineet al., 2003, pp.112-115). For this reason, Plato saw justice when duties are properly assigned according to social status. He asserted that each person must dohis taskand not interfere in other’s business.

Similar to this argument, the church and state must do their tasks independently. The church must focus on religious advocacy and more on spiritual matters and let the state handle political issues and public administration. Hence, Plato’s arguments on political justice are applicable and in support of the principle of the separation of church and state.

Thomas Jefferson

In 1776, Jefferson publicly made his Declaration of Independence.This is a document used to speak out why the colonies had to become free from Britain’s control. He stated that all men are born equal and that there are rights that a state can never take away from its people. Jefferson wrote that each person has a right to live and be free and to seek happiness (Devineet al., 2003, pp.190-194). Hereferred to these as “unalienable rights” wherethese are therights that cannot be taken away from them. He urged the people to write down their protest against the monarchy, and asserted that setting the colonies free will protect the rights of its people. This includes freedom to choose a religion.

This advocacy of Jefferson to human rights was influenced by John Locke. In 1802, Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association about the issue of separation of church and state. In this letter, Jefferson points out that religion is a matter of a man’s relationship to his Supreme Being and that the power of the state should not include governing these matters.He mentions that is no law that would prohibit anyone to exercise their right to freedom of religion.           Jefferson believed that it is the people’s will to have such a human right as it will restore satisfaction and progress for the entire nation(Ragosta, 2013, p.136). The expression “separation of church and state” which is widely used until now started from this letter. His letter evidently calls fora separation between church and state. His premises claim freedom of religion as gateway to achieving state progress and fulfillment.

Clearly, Jefferson supported the separation of these two powerful entities. Aside from his letter to Danburry Baptists, Jefferson sent other letters to deliver his message with regards to this issue. In his letter to Samuel Miller in 1808,he mentions that activities by religious groups are not part of state’s function. He directly points out fasting and prayers are religious exercises(Jefferson, 2000, n.p.).

Jefferson believed that every religion has a right to decide for itself for these exercises and aperson should act according to his own sense of right and wrong and beliefs. In 1809, he sent a letter to Methodist Church in Connecticut. There, Jefferson states thatthere is no law in the constitution that allows functionaries to control or do something to change its people’s conscience. If that would happen, a state would have a power to restrict the citizen’s freedom which opposes the natural law(Peters, 2012, para.3).With these letters, Jefferson showed how much he wanted to build a wall between church and state as both elements play a different role in society.

Constitutional Interpretation

James Madison’s Bill of Rights is one of the best legacies of the US Congress.He believed that by separating the powers of the church from that of the state, priesthood’s morality as well as people’s devotion to both forces will distinctly increase (Devineet al., 2003, p.202). Aside from basic human rights, the amendment on Bill of Rights openly assures both complete religious freedom and the parting of church and state. It asserts freedom of conscience as a basic personal right.

On the other hand, Benjamin Franklin was also an advocate of the separation of church and state. In his speech in a convention in 1787, he criticized political groups involved with religious sectors. Franklin believed that if a religion is doing well, it cansupport itself. When the time comes that it cannot support itself, civil power is ready to help, but the idea will not work as these two elements are different in nature (Devineet al., 2003, p.226). Therefore, these two powerful forces may meet difficulties but a support from either of these two wouldn’t really help.

The Changing Role of Religion

According to “A Model of Christian Charity”,the idea of separating the church and the state is an abomination (Devineet al., 2003, p.6). As explained by John Winthrop, Puritans obviously do not accept this idea of separating the two elements. Puritans believe that separation is present between social classes and created by the Supreme Being for a reason to bring the unity among peoplethrough love and support for each other. It discusses three main ideas why Puritans refuse to believe in the idea of separating the church and the state; (1) peacekeeping maintainsstability to guaranteean ideal community, (2) material things such as money can offerpious ends, and (3) stable public life relies upon some outside threat to its being (Devineet al., 2003, p.9).

These ideas are arguable; regardingthe first idea, peacekeeping is not the only reason to guarantee an ideal community given that it is not applicable today. For instance, military force is active in maintaining peace and order. Secondly, material things cannot guarantee anyone a slot in heaven. Hence, these ideas by Puritans are uncertain and debatable.




In my opinion, separating the church and state is important to prevent social chaos where multi-religious groups are co-exist.Given the premises on why religious groups should separate themselves from political matters, philosophers have presented a wide range of concepts that support the argument. However, this idea has advantages and disadvantages. If there is separation between the two powerful forces, the state’s morality is at risk. Given that the church cannot interfere with political matters, the government may execute unjust laws. On the other hand, this separation offers protection to both society and the people. Everyone will be afforded protection since everyone would have to respect one another’s belief. Entities cannot force people to join a specific religion. Overall, the benefits of separating church and state outweigh the disadvantages. Hence, the separation of the church and the state is ideal as advocated by the philosophers whose ideas were cited in this paper.


Devine, D. J., Jasnowski, T., Mason, C., Stites, D., &Wydeven, J. J. (2003). Western vision and American values: The Kirkpatrick signature series reader. Bellevue, Nebr: Bellevue University Press..

Doerr, E. (2004). The importance of church-state separation. Toward a New Political Humanism1(59), 1-18. Retrieved from>

Jefferson, T. (2000). Amendment I (Religion): Thomas Jefferson to Rev. Samuel Miller(1904–5). Retrieved from The University of Chicago website:>

Locke, J., Shapiro, I., & Locke, J. (2003). Two treatises of government and a letter concerning toleration. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.

Peters, T. (2012, May 19). Thomas Jefferson on church and state. Retrieved February 11, 2014, from>

Ragosta, J. A. (2013). Religious freedom: Jefferson’s legacy, America’s creed (808930419). Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.


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