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Member Questions of the Week of January 25, 2010

Rod from Waxhaw, NC requests: Send me talking points on the health care legislation currently being debated so I can access them when talking to my uninformed liberal associates.” OUR ANSWER: Rod, thanks for using our research! Our fact sheet entitled ObamaCare: Top Ten Reasons Its Wrong for America lists several reasons the health care bill is problematic, and our article What Now On ObamaCare gives the latest assessment of the bill.

William of Muncie, IN asks: Separation of Church & State: I know it’s not found in the Constitution, and I’ve heard it comes from Jefferson’s writings. But, exactly where does it originate and please include enough to understand it in proper context. Keep up the good work!” OUR ANSWER: The idea of separation of church and state is often associated with a letter from Thomas Jefferson that he wrote on January 1, 1802 to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut. The Baptists had written the President a fan letter in October 1801, congratulating him on his election to the chief Magistracy in the United States. They celebrated Jeffersons zealous advocacy for religious liberty and chastised those who had criticized him as an enemy of religion. In a carefully crafted reply, Jefferson endorsed the persecuted Baptists aspirations for religious liberty:

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 & State.

Although today Jeffersons Danbury letter is thought of as a principled statement on the prudential and constitutional relationship between church and state, it was in fact a political statement written to reassure pious Baptist constituents that Jefferson was indeed a friend of religion and to strike back at those who aimed to tried to vilify him as an infidel and atheist in the recent campaign.

The closest thing to the phrase Separation of Church and State in the Constitution is the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. This meant two things: the national government could not pass a law establishing a particular religion, and it could not make any law respecting existing, state establishments of religion. At the time of the Constitution, several states had established religions, although the policy was generally abandoned after the adoption of the Constitution.

But just because the national government is prevented from establishing a religion, this does not mean that the national government cannot support religion altogether. Jefferson himself went to church services held in the House of Representatives. Washington issued a yearly Thanksgiving message encouraging Americans to worship. These were okay, according to the Constitution, because they were not establishments of religion, but rather policies which supported religion without coercing anyone to actively practice a particular faith.

John Mark from McLean, VA comments: Please publish the full text of the Charles Krauthammer speech. I heard it on C-Span radio. The UN Sept. 2009 incident is tragically unreported. Fantastic speech!! Well done, Heritage!! OUR ANSWER: John Mark, the video of the speech is available here and the transcriptĀ is available here. Thanks for your support and we are glad that you enjoyed the speech!

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