I believe Daniel Dreisbach, assistant professor in the Department of Justice, Law and Society at American University, is perhaps the single most underrated American historian today. Though this book, THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE WALL OF SEPARATION BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE is far from Dreisbach’s best work, it still deserves “must read” status for every American. Of course, in this book, we can expect strict separationists to ridicule Dreisbach’s conclusions because, Dreisbach, as always, presents the facts and the facts just don’t seem to mesh up or matter much to strict separationists.
For Dreisbach’s best work, check out “Real Threat and Mere Shadow” though it is somewhat difficult to find as Amazon has misspelled Dreisbach’s name. Search Amazon under the name Daniel DrIEsbach for that one.
Whatever name he is listed under, Dreisbach never fails to put forth superb work. This book is no exception. Dreisbach has written several pieces on Jefferson’s “Wall” metaphor, and this book appears as the apex of that work. As with his other work, the findings are based solely on the facts as you will not find editorialism in any of his works. He simply presents the facts and allows them to speak for themselves.
Here, Jefferson’s wall of separation metaphor is examined thoroughly, first with the rendering of the Jefferson letter to the Danbury Baptists, as well as what exactly Jefferson was intending to address in his letter. The DB letter writers primary concern revolved around the Congregationalists Church, which was the “established” church of Massachusetts. Having an established church not only limited the power of the Baptists, but hobbled it. They were not even allowed to officiate their own children’s weddings!
In the midst of his findings, Dreisbach also makes a strong presentation of the founder’s original intent of state’s rights. Of course, the Fourteenth Amendment totally obliterated any semblance of state’s rights, but that’s another topic for another day. My point here is, Jefferson, and virtually everyone else agreed, it was perfectly legal for state’s to “establish” a church. That being the case, it must surely be legal for a local school board to allow for school prayer, wouldn’t one think? Again, I digress, another topic for another day.
After clearly defining that the First Amendment applies to CONGRESS ONLY, Dreisbach then moves on to present prior derivate uses of the wall metaphor and the context in which they were used. James Burgh is identified as the likely source of Jefferson’s use of the metaphor. As the author points out, “Burgh brought to his writings a dissenter’s zeal for religious tolerance and a distrust of ESTABLISHED churches.” Further bolstering of the fact that the First Amendment forbids ESTABLISHMENT OF, not separation from.
The book concludes with how the metaphor has been contorted to have agenda driven meaning. I must also add this astute question posed on page 106, “Is it appropriate, as a matter of constitutional interpretation and law, for a metaphor from a presidential message to supplement or supplant constitutional text?” Of course, separationists will argue, yes, but to display that absurdity, ask them this – Jefferson also wrote that homosexual deviants should be castrated – should that become a matter of constitutional interpretation and law as well? Watch the separationist’s back peddle!
This is another extraordinary work from Dreisbach, critical to all Americans for the true delineation of a widely misused metaphor; it’s agenda driven evolution, and it’s misuse in our law and erosion of a basic right as defined in the Bill of Rights.
Monty Rainey is a District Manager working in the self storage industry since 1996 and currently overseeing 13 stores in the San Antonio, TX area. He is also a leadership coach and public speaker. For a free consultation, please contact Monty at 830-743-2139 or visit his website at http://www.montyrainey.com .
- Separation of Church and State (elishasvision.wordpress.com)
- What did the “Establishment of religion” mean in 1776 (trutherator.wordpress.com)
- The Original Wall of Separation (americanclarion.com)