50 Presidential Quotes In Defense Of Separation Of Church And State


Conservatives have declared war on the constitutional separation of church and state that has kept America free. Because of religious freedom, Americans have enjoyed having a choice about what religion they practice or practicing none at all. But the religious fanatics of the Christian Right want to change all of that. These extreme fundamentalists would force public schools to teach the Bible, would ban women from thinking and choosing for themselves, and would persecute those of other faiths and those who do not practice religion at all. They are hell-bent on declaring Christianity as the national religion and replacing constitutional and civil law with a twisted interpretation of biblical doctrine. To enforce these laws, conservatives are willing to end privacy as protected by the Constitution and police the private lives of American citizens.

The Christian Right intends to destroy religious freedom in America by forcing all Americans to live under their version of Christian rule. Such actions would be totally unprecedented in the annals of American history. In fact, every president beginning with George Washington has protected the religious freedom of every American citizen and has endeavored in one way or another to keep religion and government forever separate. What follows is at least one quote from nearly every American President, as well as other American leaders, regarding the virtue of religious freedom; or, as Jefferson and Madison termed it, the separation of church and state:

1. “If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.” ~George Washington, letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia, May 1789

2. “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.” ~George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792

3. “The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion.” ~John Adams, as stated in the signed Treaty of Tripoli in 1797

4. “The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” ~John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88)

5. “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 prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” ~Thomas Jefferson, to Danbury Baptists, 1802

6. “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.” ~Thomas Jefferson, March 17, 1814

7. “Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, 1814

8. “Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.” ~James Madison, letter, 1822

9. “It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and a usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. Let us, then, look to the great cause, and endeavor to preserve it in full force. Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.” ~James Monroe, First Inaugural Address, 1817

10. “Civil liberty can be established on no foundation of human reason which will not at the same time demonstrate the right to religious freedom … The tendency of the spirit of the age is strong toward religious liberty.” ~John Quincy Adams, letter to Richard Anderson, May 27, 1823

11. “I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this county in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.” ~Andrew Jackson, statement refusing to proclaim a national day of fasting and prayer, 1832

12. “We admit of no government by divine right, believing that so far as power is concerned the Beneficent Creator has made no distinction amongst men; that all are upon an equality, and that the only legitimate right to govern is an express grant of power from the governed.” ~William Henry Harrison, Inaugural Address, 1841

13. “Let it be henceforth proclaimed to the world that man’s conscience was created free; that he is no longer accountable to his fellow man for his religious opinions, being responsible therefore only to his God.” ~John Tyler, Treasury of Presidential Quotations (1964)

14. “The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent — that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgement.” ~John Tyler, letter, 1843

15. “Thank God, under our Constitution there was no connection between Church and State, and that in my action as President of the United States I recognized no distinction of creeds in my appointments office.” ~James K. Polk, Diary Entry, 1846

16. “I am tolerant of all creeds. Yet if any sect suffered itself to be used for political objects I would meet it by political opposition. In my view church and state should be separate, not only in form, but fact. Religion and politics should not be mingled.” ~Millard Fillmore, Address, 1856

17. “My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.” ~Abraham Lincoln, Letter, 1862

18. “The United States government must not undertake to run the Churches. When an individual, in the Church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest he must be checked.” ~Abraham Lincoln, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents by Franklin Steiner, page 143

19. “Let us labor for the security of free thought, free speech, pure morals, unfettered religious sentiments, and equal rights and privileges for all men, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion;…. leave the matter of religious teaching to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contribution. Keep church and state forever separate.” ~Ulysses S. Grant, Address, 1875

20. “We all agree that neither the Government nor political parties ought to interfere with religious sects. It is equally true that religious sects ought not to interfere with the Government or with political parties. We believe that the cause of good government and the cause of religion suffer by all such interference.” ~Rutherford B. Hayes, statement as Governor of Ohio, 1875

21. “The divorce between Church and State ought to be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state or in the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community.” ~James A. Garfield, Congressional Record, 1874

22. “In my judgment, while it is the duty of Congress to respect to the uttermost the conscientious convictions and religious scruples of every citizen … not any ecclesiastical organization can be safely permitted to usurp in the smallest degree the functions and powers of the national government.” ~James A Garfield, Inaugural Address, 1881

23. “I know that human prejudice — especially that growing out of race and religion — is cruelly inveterate and lasting.” ~Grover Cleveland, Address, Views Of Religion, Noyes (1906)

24. “I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be non-sectarian and no public moneys appropriated for sectarian schools.” ~Theodore Roosevelt, speech, Carnegie Hall, 1915

25. “To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against the liberty of conscience, which is one of the foundations of American life.” ~Theodore Roosevelt, 1908 Letter To JC Martin

26. “There is nothing so despicable as a secret society that is based upon religious prejudice and that will attempt to defeat a man because of his religious beliefs. Such a society is like a cockroach — it thrives in the dark. So do those who combine for such an end.” ~William Howard Taft, Address, 1914

27. “It does not become America that within her borders, where every man is free to follow the dictates of his conscience, men should raise the cry of church against church. To do that is to strike at the very spirit and heart of America.”
~Woodrow Wilson, Address, 1915

28. “May it not suffice for me to say … that of course like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.” ~Woodrow Wilson, Letter, 1922

29. “In the experiences of a year of the Presidency, there has come to me no other such unwelcome impression as the manifest religious intolerance which exists among many of our citizens. I hold it to be a menace to the very liberties we boast and cherish.” ~Warren Harding, Address, 1922

30. “We cannot permit any inquisition either within or without the law or apply any religious test to the holding of office. The mind of America must be forever free.” ~Calvin Coolidge, Inaugural Address, 1925

31. “I come of Quaker stock. My ancestors were persecuted for their beliefs. Here they sought and found religious freedom. By blood and conviction I stand for religious tolerance both in act and in spirit.” ~Herbert Hoover, New Day, 1928

32. “The lessons of religious toleration — a toleration which recognizes complete liberty of human thought, liberty of conscience — is one which, by precept and example, must be inculcated in the hearts and minds of all Americans if the institutions of our democracy are to be maintained and perpetuated. We must recognize the fundamental rights of man. There can be no true national life in our democracy unless we give unqualified recognition to freedom of religious worship and freedom of education.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter, 1937

33. “The public schools shall be free from sectarian influences and, above all, free from any attitude of hostility to the adherents of any particular creed.”
~Franklin D. Roosevelt, The Wars of the Godly by Reuben Maury (1928)

34. “Those who want the government to regulate matters of the mind and spirit are like men who are so afraid of being murdered that they commit suicide.”
~Harry S Truman, Address, 1952

35. “We have gone a long way toward civilization and religious tolerance, and we have a good example in this country. Here the many Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church do not seek to destroy one another in physical violence just because they do not interpret every verse of the Bible in exactly the same way. Here we now have the freedom of all religions, and I hope that never again will we have a repetition of religious bigotry, as we have had in certain periods of our own history. There is no room for that kind of foolishness here.” ~Harry Truman, Mr. Citizen, 1960

36. “Religious and racial persecution is moronic at all times, perhaps the most idiotic of human stupidities.” ~Harry Truman, according to Margaret Truman in Where the Buck Stops; The Personal and Private Writings of Harry S. Truman, 1989

37. “And I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution, under American tradition, and in American hearts, this Center, this place of worship, is just as welcome as could be a similar edifice of any other religion. Indeed, America would fight with her whole strength for your right to have here your own church and worship according to your own conscience. This concept is indeed a part of America, and without that concept we would be something else than what we are.” ~Dwight Eisenhower, on Muslims in America at Ceremonies Opening the Islamic Center, 1957

38. “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish – where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source — no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials — and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.” ~John F. Kennedy, Address, 1960

39. “It is my firm belief that there should be separation of church and state in the United States–that is, that both church and state should be free to operate, without interference from each other in their respective areas of jurisdiction. We live in a liberal, democratic society which embraces wide varieties of belief and disbelief. There is no doubt in my mind that the pluralism which has developed under our Constitution, providing as it does a framework within which diverse opinions can exist side by side and by their interaction enrich the whole, is the most ideal system yet devised by man. I cannot conceive of a set of circumstances which would lead me to a different conclusion.” ~John F. Kennedy, Letter, 1959

40. “Whatever one’s religion in his private life may be, for the officeholder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution and all its parts — including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.” ~John F. Kennedy, Interview, Look, March 3, 1959

41. “We do not want an official state church. If ninety-nine percent of the population were Catholics, I would still be opposed to it. I do not want civil power combined with religious power. I want to make it clear that I am committed as a matter of deep personal conviction to separation.” ~John F Kennedy, Interview, CBS-TV, “Face the Nation,” October 30, 1960

42. “I believe in the American tradition of separation of church and state which is expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. By my office – and by my personal conviction–I am sworn to uphold that tradition.” ~Lyndon B. Johnson, Interview, 1964

43. “As you know, the separation of church and state is not subject to discussion or alteration. Under our Constitution no church or religion can be supported by the U.S. Government. We maintain freedom of religion so that an American can either worship in the church of his choice or choose to go to no church at all.” ~Richard Nixon, Letter, 1960

44. “I believe that prayer in public schools should be voluntary. It is difficult for me to see how religious exercises can be a requirement in public schools, given our Constitutional requirement of separation of church and state. I feel that the highly desirable goal of religious education must be principally the responsibility of church and home. I do not believe that public education should show any hostility toward religion, and neither should it inhibit voluntary participation, if it does not interfere with the educational process.” ~Gerald R. Ford, Interview, 1976

45. “I believe in the separation of church and state and would not use my authority to violate this principle in any way.” ~Jimmy Carter, Letter, 1977

46. “We believe in separation of church and state, that there should be no unwarranted influence on the church or religion by the state, and vice versa.”
~Jimmy Carter, News Conference, 1977

47. “We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate.” ~Ronald Reagan, Speech, 1984

48. “We have the most religious freedom of any country in the world, including the freedom not to believe.” ~Bill Clinton, Presidential Debate, 1996

49. “I’m mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You’re equally an American if you choose to worship an almighty and if you choose not to.” ~George W. Bush, October 2004

50. “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.” ~Barack Obama, June 2011

If given the power the Christian Right desires, America would become a place that past generations of America would not recognize. They have already made it their mission to insist that politicians govern based on religious views. That means they fully intend to impose their beliefs on the country no matter what the Constitution says. Such laws would ban abortion, homosexuality, pre-marital sex, evolution, other sciences, other religions, atheism, contraception, and just about anything else they want to apply their religious views to.

No American president has attempted to force their religious views upon the American people. Conservatives now seek to break that fundamental American cornerstone. Church and state is separate for a reason. There has never been such a dividing issue as religion. Religious bigotry and intolerance has literally led to the deaths of millions of people around the globe. When a particular religion controls the affairs of government, freedom is lost. Perhaps there isn’t a better example of that than in Iran, where Islamic law dominates the civil government and, as a result, the people there lack the same freedoms we have enjoyed for almost 250 years. Especially women. The Catholic Church isn’t much better either. For centuries, the Catholic Church held sway over the monarchies in Europe and, as a result, freedom was heavily limited. And those of other religions, especially pagans, Protestants and Muslims, were persecuted. That is why people fled to America. To escape religious persecution. Women, too, lacked freedom and continue to lack freedom under Catholic Church doctrine.

In America, things are different. We do not allow churches to make the laws. If we did, any religion could take over and enforce their laws on the entire population. This is why we have civil law and it’s why civil law is always put above religious doctrine. Religious law is NOT the law of the land. Civil law is. Every president since Washington knew this. Our Founding Fathers risked their lives for it. The difference between today’s conservatives and every man who has been President is that conservatives think religious freedom only applies to Christian fundamentalists. Americans have the right to think for themselves and have their own definition of what violates their consciences. Are we really going to allow conservative extremists to obliterate over 250 years of Constitutional law and precedent so that they can enslave us with their religious beliefs?