The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s letter, and the US Constitution are important documents that shaped the US and its government. This paper aims to compare these three writings, paying particular attention to the founders’ views on the relationships between the church and the government. The documents appear to be similar in their pursuit of establishing a fair state, but each of them focuses on different aspects of the government. Moreover, all two of the three documents explicitly support the separation of the church and the state but do not require the separation of God from the authorities.
Before exploring the differences and similarities among these writings, it can be useful to pay attention to when they were written. The Declaration of Independence was compiled in 1776 in response to harsh and unfair British policies. The US Constitution was created in 1787, ratified in 1788, and amended to include the Bill of Rights in 1791; it was meant to replace the Articles of Confederation. Finally, Jefferson wrote his letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. As seen from the dates, the Declaration of Independence was the earliest of these documents. This fact is important because it shows that this document laid the foundation for the US Constitution.
The documents tackle important themes with regard to the US government. The main theme prominent in the Declaration of Independence is the existence of individual inalienable rights that the government is obliged to protect. This document aims to show how Britain violated these unalienable rights of Americans and, thus, justify Americans’ severed connection with Britain and the establishment of their own independent country. A similar theme of inalienable rights is apparent in the US Constitution that protects specific individual liberties. In addition, one can conclude that the Constitution is based on the Declaration of Independence because it aims to establish a government different from the tyranny that existed in Britain. The separation of power and checks and balances are the principles that were meant to prevent the US from following the path of Britain. Finally, the main theme of Jefferson’s letter is different from that of the two previous documents because it focuses on the separation of the church and state. Yet, in his writing, Jefferson relied on the US Constitution that prevented the government from imposing its religious views on citizens.
As discussed above, the idea of separation of the church and state is the most prominent in Jefferson’s letter, but it can also be found in the other two documents. Some think that America was founded on Christianity because the Declaration of Independence often refers to God. However, the founders mentioned God as “the laws of nature,” not as Christianity’s God (Melouka, 2018, p. 84). Their purpose was to establish a country free from tyranny, and to ensure this, they had to establish a government through people rather than Christianity (Melouka, 2018). In the US Constitution, God is not mentioned, but it includes a clause that prohibits the government from enacting laws that establish a religion or impose a ban on its exercise. By this clause, the Constitution prevents the government from intervening in the matters of the church.
Although the three documents prohibit the government from intruding upon the church, they do not separate God from the government. The Bible points out, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (King James Bible, 1769/2017, Romans 13:1). From a biblical worldview, the government should act upon God’s will, which, however, does not mean that it should impose its religious views on citizens. The founders believed that religion was important for governmental officials because it ensured that they would have high morals and resist temptations, thus guaranteeing peaceful existence to society (Hunt, 2018). Thus, even though the discussed documents separated the church from the state, they did not banish God from the government.
Hunt, N. J. (2018). Let us pray: The case for legislator-led prayer. Tulsa Law Review, 54(1), 49-79.
King James Bible. (2017). King James Bible Online. Web.
Melouka, A. (2018). Reconsidering secular humanism: Separation of church and state in public schools in the USA. Revue Académique des Études Sociales et Humaines, 19, 81-86.