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Analysis of “Jefferson’s Virginia Statute & How Courts Twisted Meaning of First Amendment to make Government Hostile to Religious Liberty” on American Minute by Bill Federer

Click here to go to homepage with links to all analyses of “An American Minute by Bill Federer” Challenged

For a documented history of the spiritual warfare in America that started in the colonial period and continues to this day, see The Trail of Blood of the Martyrs of Jesus/Christian Revisionism on Trial.

The real problem in America is that the United States Supreme Court removed God all civil government matters. To understand how that happened, see Section V of God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application, p. 194, available in online PDF.

Jerald Finney
January 18, 2023

This article challenges Bill Federer’s American Minute publication: Jefferson’s Virginia Statute & How Courts Twisted Meaning of First Amendment to make Government Hostile to Religious Liberty.


A. Challenge to Bill Federer’s understanding of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
B. Challenge to Federer’s contention that religion was left up to the states
C. Challenge to Federer’s understanding of how the courts twisted the meaning of the First Amendment to make government hostile to religious liberty


As is the case with all Christian Revisionist publications, Jefferson’s Virginia Statute & How Courts Twisted Meaning of First Amendment to make Government Hostile to Religious Liberty ignores a significant portion of the spiritual warfare in the colonies which resulted in the adoption of the First Amendment, the period from the early 1630s until the incomplete Virginia portion of the conflict starting in 1760s (leaving out relevant Virginia history before then, and after the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty). The warfare began in the Calvinist New England colonies and spread to other colonies. Christian Revisionists do not want to open what to them is a can of worms, the truth about the New England Calvinist church/state theology and the accompanying persecutions of dissenters by a controlling Calvinist establishment (union of church and state).

That is why Christian (Calvinist) historical revisionists falsely claim that the movement toward religious freedom in America started with the American Revolution and that the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty birthed religious freedom in America. This is not new. In the late 1980s, I began to realize that their histories left blank the colonial history after the first few years of the Jamestown and New England settlements in the early 1600s until the Virginia persecutions of dissenters immediately prior to the Revolution (1760s) and forward.

Calvinist revisionists have always sanitized their Christian Revisionist histories of Puritan New England, by leaving out significant historical facts, by praising the Puritan Calvinists, and by reaching untenable conclusions (such as their partially true claim, “The Puritans came to New England for religious liberty” leaving out a significant fact, “for themselves only.”).

Revisionists never get into the Calvinist theology which denies religious liberty and calls for harsh and strict enforcement, by the church/state alliance, of all Ten of the Commandments and many moral, not criminal, matters. Had Calvinist theology prevailed, America would not have religious liberty; there would be no First Amendment. Never do they report the persecutions of dissenters by the original Calvinist church/state alliances. Never do they mention books, tracts, speeches etc. written by persecuted dissenters like Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, and others. For example, The Bloudy Tenent of Persection for Cause of Conscience by Roger Williams, published in 1644, chronicled the persections of dissenters in New England; and, equally important, it exposed (and continues to expose to those who read it) the Puritan theology for what it was and is.  The writings of Williams, and their actions, were preeminent in the battle for religious liberty in American.

The original New England Calvinist histories revised history as it occurred. That same revisionism continues until this day.  I explain this in some detail in The Trail of Blood of the Martyrs of Jesus/Christian Revisionism on Trial (This book also exposes the motives and techniques of Calvinist revisionists). When one knows the the whole story, this Amerian Minute, Jefferson’s Virginia Statute & How Courts Twisted Meaning of First Amendment to make Government Hostile to Religious Liberty is another easily dissected bit of revisionism.

Other revisions are on display in Federer’s article. Christian Revisionists are experts in the use of soundbites. For example, they say, “Separation (or complete separation) of church and state is not in the Constitution.” Those words are not there, but the law meant for complete separation of church and state is, the First Amendment. An honest historical review and analysis proves this beyond any doubt. To support the soundbite, revisionists select quotes and facts completely out of context. They leave out portions of history, caselaw, that disprove their conclusions and soundbites and shine light on their theologies.

They say that the First Amendment “left religion under the control of the states” and try to prop up that statement with more inaccuracies. By the time of the adoption of the First Amendment, most of the colonies which had established churches had abandoned one church establishment in favor of multiple church establishment and this carried over to statehood. Three more states followed suit soon thereafter. Two more, Virginia and West Virginia forbade incorporation (establishment of churches). Rhode Island had never allowed union of church and state. in 1833 Massachusetts become the last state to do away with state mandated establishment. Every state now allows churches a choice: (1) become an earthly entity by combining with state government (establish) through incorporation or some other statutory means, or (2) remain a spiritual entity totally separate from civil government.

Below is a more complete analysis of the revisionism in Jefferson’s Virginia Statute & How Courts Twisted Meaning of First Amendment to make Government Hostile to Religious Liberty.

A. Challenge to Bill Federer’s understanding of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Let us first look at Federer’s comments on the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty in this American Minute; second, let us look at a summarized version of the relevant history for the truth of the matter.

Federer begins by praising religious freedom, the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty, and the First Amendment. He states out of context and unanalyzed quotes and conclusions to show that the movement toward religious freedom in America started with the American Revolution and that the we owe the Amendment and our religious freedom to the Virginia Statute for Religious liberty which “preceded the First Amendment by five years.” Nothing could be further from the truth. As will be shown below, the First Amendment and its protections for religion, soul liberty, press, association, speech, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances was the product of spiritual warfare that was continued from the Old World long before the colonization of America and continued in the colonies under different circumstances.

As truthful documented historical research shows, the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty, authored by Thomas Jefferson in 1779 and passed in 1786, was just one brick in the brick road that led to the adoption of the First Amendment.

Federer states that the American Revolution brought a need to work together amongst all the colonists. He says, “Like dropping a pebble in a pond and the ripples go out, individual States began to expand religious liberty at their own speeds: [he lists those to whom religious liberty extended, to include atheists.].” First, there were colonies, not states, at that time. The dissenters in each colony had already made much progress in their fight for religious liberty. One colony had won that battle with its founding in the 1630s, the colony of Rhode Island. The pebble had been dropped in the pond in the early 1630s with the arrival of Roger Williams in Congregational (Puritan) Massachusetts.

Williams, a brilliant and charismatic man, was earmarked to be a pastor and leader. However, he took issue with the ecclesiocratic (falsely called theocratic) union of church and state in Massachusetts and the legislation of all Ten of the Commandments. The Congregationalists tried to persuade him that he was wrong on that and some other matters, but he refused to budge from the truths of the Word of God. As a result, he was sentenced to banishment to England. Instead, he with some followers left in the middle of New England winter and went to what was to become the colony of Rhode Island. There he founded the first civil government in the history of the world with complete religious liberty. Then came others. Dr. John Clark and some men who came with him from England also ended up in Rhode Island shortly after Williams and his followers arrived there. Clarke shared Williams’ views on the relationship of church and state. Every American would do well to read their writings and history which are still available today for the interested student with an open mind.

Williams and Clark wrote and published books exposing the truth about the Puritan theology and the persecutions of the dissenters against the established church in the New England colonies. And there were others in this fight which continued up until the adoption of the First Amendment.

The opposing parties in the spiritual warfare were from different lines. On one side were the Calvinists, the persecutors, and on the other side were the “dissenters,” mainly the Baptists. The Baptists were in the line that came through the first churches and Antioch. The Calvinist line came from Alexandria and Rome. The former were used by God to meticulously preserve Scripture always stood for Bible truth; for example, believer’s baptism and separation of church and state. The latter revised Scripture and important Bible truths to fit their theology; for example, they instituted infant baptism and, with the marriage of some of the churches to the state under Emperor Constantine, union of church and state. The latter began with Catholicism and continued with Protestantism in the Old World and into the colonies. The colonial establishments (unions of church and state) in New England traced their origins back to the theology of John Calvin. Calvin’s church/state theology, as were other Protestant theologies regarding the relationship between church and state, was a modification of the theology of Augustine.

Calvinists incorrectly apply the principles of the “theocracy” of Israel to Gentile nations. “Theocracy” was a term used by Josephus to define the union of religion and state under God in Israel. According to the Old Testament, all nations were Gentile until God called out Israel. In Israel, and Israel only, God was directly over both the state and the religion. In Israel, the religion and state were to work together, under God; He was the lawgiver, judge, and king, over the nation and the Jewish religion. Israel was the only theocracy God ever ordained. God’s Abrahamic, Mosaic, Palestinian, and Davidic covenants were to Israel only. Gentile nations, as ordained by God, were to continue under the covenants given to Adam (Genesis 3:14-19) and Noah (Genesis 9:1-7). Of course, the Bible makes clear that God is Supreme over all nations, but God’s treatment of  Israel and Gentile nations is distinct, as is the God-ordained relationship between church and state.

Those “Christians” who support union of church and state spiritualize much of the Bible instead of believing all of it. They contend that the church replaced Israel, and that the principles for the theocracy of Israel apply to the church and Gentile nations. They “Judaize” the church and the state. The Bible is very clear: God made “everlasting” promises to the nation Israel, promises which he did not make to Gentile nations. Gentile nations like America were never under the law, as was Israel. Gentile nations are judged by God based primarily upon their treatment of Israel as well as their morality.

No Gentile nation can be a theocracy, since God only ordained one theocracy, the nation Israel. He did so for specific purposes. Catholic and Calvinist theologians call their unauthorized unions of church and state (not God and state) “theocracy.” Their churches have always worked hand in hand with the states they unite with: the church over the state, the state over the church, or partners working together for the same goals. When, as in the Old World and in most of the colonies, at first, one particular church united with the state the established church/state severely persecuted dissenting believers.

Church/state unions, before the advent of multiple establishments in America, enforced all Ten of the Commandments and persecuted those who would not bow down to the official alliance; in this way they were like the Jewish religion and state which originally worked hand in hand, under God. As we know, Israel asked for a king, like the other nations, to lead and judge her. They were not satisfied with God’s direct lawgiving, leadership, and judgment of the nation. God always gives the people what they want, even if it is against His will. All this is covered in some detail in God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application ,available in online PDF.

Thankfully, the Judaizers in America lost the battle on the national level with the adoption of the First Amendment. They partially won on the state level, with most of the colonies, and then states which had not done so during the colonial period, doing away with forced establishment, but allowing churches to choose to establish by contracting with the states for corporate status or other legal status. Sadly, most churches chose to betray God.

By the time the First Amendment was added to the United States Constitution, only New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut had mandatory establishment of churches. In 1833, Massachusetts became the last state to do away with required establishment. In almost all the states after 1833, establishment was voluntary. A couple did not allow church incorporation for a long time thereafter. A couple did not allow church incorporation. A church could and can choose to either remain separate from civil government or to combine or unite with civil government through non-profit corporation status, charitable trust status, or some other statutory manner. Of course, any church could choose to become established unlike in Europe to that point where only one church could establish and dissenting believers were persecuted. See, for a relatively concise history, see The History and Meaning of “Establishment of Religion” in America; see also, What Is an Established Church?

I chronicle the documented historical facts of this history in much more detail in in The Trail of Blood of the Martyrs of Jesus; see also Section IV of God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application ,available in online PDF.

Federer, and other revisionists on the Calvinistic side of these matters, seek to cover up this complete history. Their ultimate goal is to set up both state and federal government ecclesiocracies which they call theocracies. Their ultimate goal is union of church and state with the two as equal partners, the church over the state (as in the New England colonies, Germany under Lutheranism, Geneva under Calvinism), or the state over the church (the southern colonies, England). See The Trail of Blood of the Martyrs of Jesus for much more on this.

The American Revolution and the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty were pieces of the puzzle that led to the adoption of the First Amendment, but only pieces, and not the largest pieces to be sure.

B. Challenge to Federer’s contention that religion was left up to the states

Next, Federer goes to the state level. The point he tries to make is that control of religion was left up to the states. He asserts that the people of the states are to decide the level of religious freedom and that control of religion was left to the states. Again, inaccurate conclusions. He also incorrectly states that all the states supported, financially aided, both the church and the government. That is not true. Rhode Island originally did not allow incorporation of churches and church and state were entirely separate. After the war for religious freedom was over in Virginia, Virginia did not allow incorporation of churches until 2002. See, Fallwell v. Miller, 203 F. Supp. 2d 624 (W.D. Va. 2002). Nor did West Virginia permit church incorporation. Article VI, Section 47 of the West Virginia Constitution explicitly states: “No charter of incorporation shall be granted to any church or religious denomination.” However, most states originally, and all now, allow union of church and state through various statutory means: incorporation, charitable trust, business trust are examples.

Every state Constitution has provisions which protect all, or almost all, the freedoms embodied in the First Amendment. They all protect religious freedom, soul liberty, speech, association and press. Every state allows churches the choice of remaining totally outside government statutory status and control. To see this for yourself online google, “Constitution of [name of state].”

Here is an example of what you will find. Indiana law recognizes that churches should be free to organize under Christ and Christ alone; and protects the soul liberty of the citizens of Indiana. The Preamble to the Indiana Constitution states:

“TO THE END, that justice be established, public order maintained, and liberty perpetuated; WE, the People of the State of Indiana grateful to ALMIGHTY GOD for the free exercise of the right to choose our own form of government, do ordain this Constitution.”

The Indiana Constitution in Article I, Bill of Rights, states:

Section 1. Inherent Rights. WE DECLARE, That all people are created equal; that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that all power is inherent in the people; and that all free governments are, and of right ought to be, founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and well-being. For the advancement of these ends, the people have, at all times, an indefeasible right to alter and reform their government.

Section 2. Right to Worship. All people shall be secured in the natural right to worship ALMIGHTY GOD, according to the dictates of their own consciences.

Section 3. Freedom of Religious Opinions. No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.

Section 4. Freedom of Religion. No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship; and no person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent.

Section 5. No Religious Test or Office. No religious test shall be required, as a disqualification for any office of trust or profit.

Section 9. Freedom of Thought and Speech. No law shall be passed, restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print, freely, on any subject whatever: but for the abuse of that right, every person shall be responsible.”

State church non-profit incorporation statutes were carried over from the colonial period when establishment or incorporation of churches was the norm in almost all the colonies. Isaac Backus, John Leland and their followers fought against incorporation in the colonies and continued their fight in the early republic. However, they could not totally overcome forced establishment in the colonies and then in the states. Not all of the colonies, before becoming states, had done away with forced establishment in favor of chosen establishment. The religious freedom of those churches who now choose to remain separate from the state are now protected by both the First Amendment and corresponding state constitutional provisions. Those churches who choose to become established do so out of ignorance of the will of God as expressed in His Word or because they are Judaizers who misinterpret God’s Word to require union of church and state.

One can also suppose, from other Federer comments, that the states should legislate morality. To what extent cannot be determined from what he says. God’s Word makes clear that all crimes are sin, but not all sin is criminal. The state should criminalize only those sins which are crimes.

Then Federer asks, “What things did change?” In his brief explanation, he considers George Hagel’s dialectic; Charles Darwin’s theory that species could evolve; Spencer who “proposed that the theory of evolution could influence other areas of academia, including law,” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. who developed a theory of “legal realism,” how it took some years for “them to come around to the view that the law was flexible, responsive to changing and economic climates; the development of the “case precedent” method as a means to change the Constitution; the use of the 14th Amendment and Commerce Clause as tools to take jurisdiction away from the states over various issues; the changing the definition of a few words within the Constitution so as to change the views of the majority of the people. Sounds like a tactic of the Christian Revisionists. Ever hear Christian Revisionists say that “complete separation of church and state is not found in the Constitution” or “separation of church and state is not found in the constitution.” One can also ask, on the matters on historical fact and Bible interpretation, what things have Catholics, Protestants (such as Calvinists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans) left out, added to, selectively quoted and spiritualized in effecting their changes?

Federer states, “The broadening of the definition of religion by the federal government after Hugo Black’s opinion which took religion out of the states’ jurisdiction and put under Federal jurisdiction.” This is not accurate–see the next section for explanation. What the court proceeded to do was to remove God from practically all civil government matters on the city, county, state, and federal level. State laws combining church and state were still in effect. All, or almost all, of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment were also protected by the Constitutions of every state. The preambles to most of the state constitutions still explicitly reverenced the God of the Bible, something not true of the United States Constitution.

 C. Challenge to Federer’s understanding of how the courts twisted the meaning of the First Amendment to make government hostile to religious liberty

The next question Federer asks is, “How did meaning of the First Amendment get twisted to make government hostile to religious liberty?” Then he incorrectly states, “Below is an extended explanation of its evolution.” What he follows with is not an explanation and it is not extended.

First, Federer does not ask the right question. The Supreme Court did twist the meaning of the religion clause of the Amendment for the purpose of removing God and any reference to or reverence for God from practically all civil government matters on, not only the federal, but also on the city, county, and state levels. The First Amendment originally applied only to the federal government. Therefore, the right question is actually twofold: (1) Has the Supreme Court done away with the original meaning and application of the First Amendment? (2) Has the Supreme Court added to the jurisdiction and meaning of the First Amendment.

Second, Federer does not answer the question he raises. This challenge will answer the right question after first examining pages 40-50 of Federer’s American Minute.

I start with an analysis of pages 40-50 of Federer’s Jefferson’s Virginia Statute & How Courts Twisted Meaning of First Amendment to make Government Hostile to Religious Liberty because, on those pages, he most strikingly reveals the primary error of his, and other “Christian” revisionists’—their misunderstanding of the difference between separation of church and state and separation of God and state. The First Amendment dealt with the relationship between church and state (establishment clause), soul liberty (the free exercise clause), and related freedoms: speech, press, assembly, and the petitioning of the government for a redress of grievances, all of which were denied dissenters by the original colonial establishments. Dissenters in the colonies, starting in the 1630s, fought the established churches, in the face of severe persecution, for freedom of religion, soul liberty, speech, press, assembly, and the right to petition their colonial governments for “a redress of grievances” They won the war with the adoption of the First Amendment. The establishments (the Judaizers) lost.

Federer correctly concludes that “the First Amendment was never intended to insulate our public institutions from any mention of God, the Bible or religion.” He also concludes, “When such insulation occurs, another religion, such as secular humanism, is effectively established.” (page 40) Yes to that also. He then offers quotes, conclusions, etc.

He quotes Ronald Reagan and others regarding the fact that the Constitution “was never meant to prevent people from praying” but was meant to protect their freedom to pray” or “to prevent those who believe in God from expressing their faith.” That is true.

He then gives a list of quotes out of context and without any analysis [Bold comments in brackets are mine):

  • The ACLU agenda which includes elimination of prayer or any phase of religious expression in the schools on the ground that it violates the principle of ‘separation of church and state.” [For a look at an analysis of ACLU, look up “American Civil Liberties Union” in God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application ,available in online PDF.]
  • A comment from Judge Richard Suhrheinrich stated in ACLU v Mercer County, 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, December 20, 2005: “The ACLU makes repeated reference to ‘the separation of church and state.’ This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state. Our nation’s history is replete with governmental acknowledgment and in some case, accommodation of religion.” [This is a 6th Circuit case. To understand its significance would require a study of the facts, procedural history (was it overturned by the Supreme Court, etc.) of the case.]
  • A statement from In Committee for Public Education & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 760 (197): “This Nation’s history has not been one of entirely sanitized separation between Church and State. It has never been thought either possible or desirable to enforce a regime of total separation.”
  • A statement from the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971): “Our prior holdings do not call for total separation between church and state; total separation is not possible in an absolute sense.”
  • Supreme Court statement in Lynch v Donnelly, 1984: “The Constitution does not ‘require complete separation of church and state’… The concept of a ‘wall’ of separation is a … figure of speech … but the metaphor itself is not a wholly accurate description of the practical aspects of the relationship that in fact exists between church and state.”
  • A U.S. Supreme Court decision, McCullum v Board of Education, statement: “Rule of law should not be drawn from a figure of speech.” [referring to “separation of church and state.]
  • Associate Justice William Rehnquist wrote in the U.S. Supreme Court case Wallace v. Jafree, 1985, dissent, 472 U. S., 38, 99: “The ‘wall of separation between church and state’ is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned. It is impossible to build sound constitutional doctrine upon a mistaken understanding of Constitutional history … The establishment clause had been expressly freighted with Jefferson’s misleading metaphor for nearly forty years … There is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the framers intended to build a wall of separation … Recent court decisions are in no way based on either the language or intent of the framers … But the greatest injury of the ‘wall’ notion is its mischievous diversion of judges from the actual intentions of the drafters of the Bill of Rights.” [Notice that this is in the dissent. The majority disagreed. History disagrees. Other Supreme Court decisions, especially Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 67 S. Ct. 504, 91 L. Ed. 711, 1947 U.S. LEXIS 2959, 168 A.L.R. 1392 (1947). I explain Everson and its supreme importance to a correct analysis of the matter of “separation of church and state” below.]
  • He continues with similar quotes from other Supreme Court Justices concerning “separation of church and state.”
  • A quote from President Reagan concerning criticism of the ACLU for his 1983 proclamation of the year of the Bible.
  • He states (page 46), “There is freedom for all religions in America, but sharia Islam is not just a religion; it is also a political and military system which feels it has a divine mandate to subdue or eliminate all other religions.” “Groups hostile to the Judeo-Christian values of America’s founders, such as aggressive LGBT activists or the fundamental Islamist brotherhood, endeavor to use the newly evolved “broad definition of religion” to take liberties away from the majority of Americans — liberties the First Amendment, as well as Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, were intended to guarantee?”
  • An example of broadening a definition was published by FoxNews, June 4, 2022: “California court rules a bumblebee is a fish under environmental law.”
  • He quotes President Dwight Eisenhower: “The Bill of Rights contains no grant of privilege for a group of people to destroy the Bill of Rights. A group — like the Communist conspiracy — dedicated to the ultimate destruction of all civil liberties, cannot be allowed to claim civil liberties as its privileged sanctuary from which to carry on subversion of the Government.” He follows with a similar quote from President Reagan.
  • He follows this with (page 48): “Did Jefferson, author of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, intend to outlaw the acknowledgment of God and limit students, teachers, coaches, chaplains, schools, organizations, and communities from public religious expression? Did Jefferson intend to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their consciences and support abortion? Did he intend to force cake bakers or wedding photographers who believe in natural marriage to violate their consciences or be put out of business?”
  • He quotes from the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (pages 49-50). [Again, out of context as to its historical significance. See “Challenge to Bill Federer’s understanding of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” above for correct understanding of that statute.]
  • He ends with a quote from President Reagan: “The First Amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people of this country from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny.”

The above summary of the contents of pages 40-50 clearly show that Federer does not ask the right question, nor does he answer the question. I will now answer the right questions: (1) Has the Supreme Court done away with the original meaning and application of the First Amendment? (2) Has the Supreme Court added to the jurisdiction and meaning of the First Amendment.

Here are the abbreviated answers. The short answer to the first question is “No.” The short answer to the second question is that the Supreme Court twisted the meaning of the religion clause of the Amendment for the purpose of removing God and any reference to or reverence for God from practically all civil government matters on not only the federal, but also on the city, county, and state levels. The First Amendment originally applied only to the federal government.

What follows in this section is a nut-shell view of relevant First Amendment history and meaning, and an analysis of United States Supreme Court First Amendment jurisprudence. I will show how the Supreme Court, in 1947, correctly upheld the original meaning of the First Amendment while also adding a new twist, thereby laying a foundation for the future removal by the Court of God, the God of the Bible, from practically all civil government matters. I will then give the results of that twisting. For much more detail, see The Trail of Blood of the Martyrs of Jesus/Christian Revisionism on Trial; and God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application ,available in online PDF.

The Anglicans arrived in 1607 in Jamestown, the Pilgrims in 1619, and the Puritans in 1629. By 1660, the Puritan experiment was falling apart. Persecuted dissenters fought a spiritual warfare against the colonial establishments in New England and other colonies. That warfare eventually led to victory for the dissenters: the First Amendment to the United States Constitution was a law which set in concrete the Bible principles of complete separation of church and state, and freedom of speech, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government from a redress of grievances. See, Section IV of God Betrayed. and Part II of The Trail of Blood of the Martyrs of Jesus.

The courts have never addressed the foundational principles for church and state—those expressed in God’s Word. That was to be expected, even in the early Republic, since there were many diverse Biblical interpretations, as the history of the colonial period and the early republic proves. However, the Supreme Court has recognized that, according to American history, the First Amendment was meant to separate church and state—to keep the state out of church and the church out of state. In Section V of God Betrayed available in online PDF I explain the 19th Century Supreme Court interpretation of “separation of church and state,” the application of the First Amendment to the States: 1868-1947, and Separation of God and state (how the United States Supreme Court removed God from practically all civil government matters while still recognizing that the First Amendment was meant to create a two-way wall of separation between church and state): 1947-2007.

Because the population was predominantly Christian, or at least honored God and His Word, American civil government, to a great degree, initially operated partially, and probably predominantly, according to principles in the Word of God. Many Presidents, Congressmen, Legislators, Judges to include Supreme Court Justices, and the majority of Americans in the nineteenth century were either Christian or at least had a reverence for the Bible and Christianity. In 1892, the Court declared that this nation would go by the principles of Christianity, not by the principles of other religions which the Court called imposters of the true religion. See, Rector, Etc., of Holy Trinity Church v. United States, 143 U.S. 457, 12 S. Ct. 511 (1892).

God was honored by almost all civil government organizations and officials in their public proclamations, speeches, and prayers. Official prayers were given in Jesus’ name. God was recognized by leaders and judges who acknowledged that only the God of the Bible could bring blessings and curses to the nation. God was honored at all levels of government, but the church and state, according to the First Amendment were to be separate on the federal level, neither meddling in the affairs of the other. Among the myriad examples of this reverence for God is the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of President George Washington who agreed with other Founding Fathers that church and state should be separate:

  • “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to ‘recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
  • “Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November, next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His [many blessings before becoming a nation, during the late war, etc.]….
  • “And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions….”

See, George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation: Does It Support Union of Church and State or Separation of Church and State? for more analysis.

Honest, complete history is clear: The First Amendment was intended to erect a two-way wall between church and state, but it was never intended to separate God, and the practice of his principles, and state. See, for a concise, but complete, documented history of the First Amendment, Section IV of God Betrayed available in online PDF.

Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 67 S. Ct. 504, 91 L. Ed. 711, 1947 U.S. LEXIS 2959, 168 A.L.R. 1392 (1947) correctly held that the First Amendment created a two-way wall of separation between church and state. However, the Court also incorporated the First Amendment into the Fourteenth Amendment, a twist which was used in future cases to remove God and the mention of God or anything to do with God from practically all civil government matters at all levels of government—city, county, state, and federal. Everson twisted the meanings of “establishment of religion and “separation of church and state.” Eventually, the new rationale of the Court in Everson, while honoring the historical First Amendment and biblical principle of “separation of church and state,” laid the foundation for the removal of God and His principles from practically all civil government affairs in America.

After Everson, the convenient term, “separation of church and state,” was now used in cases which had nothing to do with the relationship of church and state. The new twisted “separation of church and state” concept would lead to the removal by the Court, of any vestige of God from civil government related affairs: prayers and Bible reading in public schools, posting the Ten Commandments in the public schools, in government buildings or on government property, etc.  Even when the Court would allow the mention of God, it was with the understanding that God was only historical and of no significance. God, the Ruler of the universe, the Ultimate Lawmaker, and the Judge of the Supreme Court of the Universe, gave United States Supreme Court Justices the right to rebel. Again, see Section V of God Betrayed, available in online PDF.

As stated above, Everson did not do away with the original two-way wall which the First Amendment erected between church and state. The First Amendment forbade union of church and state only on the federal level. Everson did not change that. Since Everson, the Supreme Court has not touched state laws which allow union of church and state. Thus, most, but not all churches can and do, as always since the ratification of the Constitution and First Amendment, choose to “establish”—that is, to put themselves under the authority of civil government as legal Fourteenth Amendment entities for many purposes as opposed to remaining purely First Amendment spiritual entities. Why? Because they want to be practical in the worldly or business, not Biblical, sense.

There is no reason why civil government officials, led by the principles of the god of this world, would wish to do away the ability of God’s churches to commit spiritual fornication. The prince of this world system “has organized the world of unbelieving mankind upon his cosmic principles of force, greed, selfishness, ambition, and pleasure (Matthew 4:8, 9; John 12:31; 14:30; 18:36; Ephesians 2:2; 6:12; 1 John 2:15-17).” His goal is to dethrone God (See Isaiah 14:12-17). When a church unites with the state, she joins herself to an earthly power and submits to laws which redefine the status, organization, and operation of the church. Union of a former Bible believing and practicing church with the state puts that church on a slippery slope downward to heresy and apostasy. Many basically sound American churches who chose man’s cheese above God’s principles are now apostate and the others are heretical to one degree or another; they are nothing more than businesses who, at best, honor Jesus Christ with their tongues, and possibly to a degree in their actions (see, Revelation 2:1-7), while their hearts are far from him.

Satan, I am sure, gets great pleasure from observing and pointing out to God how well his plan has worked in America where only a small remnant of local churches still honor our Lord. Most have prostituted themselves through uniting with the state through corporate, charitable trust, or some other statutory status. Some remain true to the Lord in some ways, but many are highly heretical or apostate.

For a century and a half before Everson, the Supreme Court and civil government interference with churches and attempts to make sure all vestiges of God were erased from public life were practically nonexistent. However, armed with the power of judicial review, the twentieth century Court, beginning with Everson, without the benefit of a biblical worldview, began to decide issues and to attempt to define the liberties and rights of the individual, of the minority and the majority, which had been based upon biblical principles—of which many or most of the Justices had no knowledge or understanding. As a result, some of the Court’s assertions were and are correct but were polluted with unbiblical assertions and reasoning.

The reasoning of the Court was applied in a society generally ignorant of biblical principles and which was becoming more secular with each passing day. “The application to particular factual situations of the … general rules [concerning the First Amendment religion clause as laid down by the Court], simplistic as they appear to be in the abstract, has involved a complex pattern of turns and twists of legal reasoning, cutting across almost all facets of human life.” (Donald T. Kramer, J.D. Annotation: Supreme Court Cases Involving Establishment and Freedom of Religion Clauses of Federal Constitution, 37 L. Ed. 2d 1147§ 2. Kramer lists the “facets of human life” across which the religion clause as applied by the Court has cut. Then Kramer examines the cases. The reader of Kramer’s annotation must keep in mind that Kramer leaves God out of the analysis. A Christian who studies his annotation must also read and study the cases themselves (not just Kramer’s summaries and analyses) and analyze those cases in light of biblical principles. Kramer misses the most important point—the religion clause has been used to remove God from the public life of America and to insult God by eliminating Him from all consideration in civil government affairs.). See Section V of God Betrayed available in online PDF.

The foundational law, the Bible, agrees with a correct interpretation of the First Amendment, an interpretation which has never been fully applied by our courts or understood by the vast majority of Christians, much less Americans. Even Christian lawyers have looked to Court decisions, not the Bible, as the foundational law upon which they make their arguments and place their hope. Their legal arguments have not and do not honor God and His Word; they cannot since churches and Christians have not practiced Bible principle in their organization and practice. The result has been a steady downward spiral toward a totally secular state, church, and populace.

Although “Christian” lawyers have sought to fight this downward spiral, for the most part they have fought in a manner, as exemplified in recent cases dealing with the display of the Ten Commandments on public property, which dishonors God. Even though “claiming” some “victories” in the legal arena, those “victories” are nothing more than compromises, at best, which chip away at or totally destroy recognition of the sovereignty of God, and lead deeper into a pluralistic, Godless, state and society, while Christianity and the true and only God are degraded by civil government and society in general. At the same time that victories (which are rare and which are not victories at all) are being proclaimed by “Christian” lawyers, those lawyers and their firms are leading Bible believing pastors and church members, who have not studied the Bible and the issues, down the road to destruction. Almost all “Christian” lawyers say that churches must incorporate and give their unlearned opinions as to why. For an examination of their excuses for betraying God, see Analysis of False Reasons of Christians and Lawyers for Church Corporate, 501(c)(3) and 508(c)(1)(A) tax Exempt Status or Legal Status of Any Kind; See also, Section VI of God Betrayed available in online PDF.

Since Everson, the Supreme Court has, among other things and in the name of separation of church and state, banned school prayer (including silent meditation), eliminated graduation invocations, driven creches and menorahs from public parks, removed the Ten Commandments from display in the public schools, banned God from the public schools (the public school classroom is now based on the religion of humanism where Satan’s messages are taught to the youth of America), taken carols out of school assemblies, purged the Ten Commandments monuments, laid the groundwork for a secular pluralistic—or more accurately Satanic—state.

On the civil government front, Satan, through those who were following his principles, has been doing more than removing God from practically all civil government matters. Because of the change in Supreme Court First Amendment jurisprudence, states were now taxing to support individuals—aiding individuals through all types of social legislation. Tax money now went to government agencies, whose religion was secular humanism and which were becoming the new source of help and instruction for many Americans. On the national level, the New Deal spearheaded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt had gone far in replacing a faith in God with a faith in government. President Roosevelt, with his proposed court-packing scheme, coerced the Justices of the Supreme Court into going along with his civil government programs. The nation was switching from the way of faith in God to the way of faith civil government; and, in its instructive capacity, was leading the people down the same path.

On another front, that of the church, Satan was also replacing faith in God with faith in the government. Churches have prostituted themselves with the federal and state governments. They have abandoned their Biblical First Amendment status in favor of Fourteenth Amendment status for many purposes. They have chosen to become creatures of the state, to “worship the creature more than the creator” (Romans 1:25). On the state level, through choosing corporate, charitable trust, or some other legal entity (Fourteenth Amendment) status; on the federal level through Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) or § 508(c)(1)(A) tax exempt status. By the way, 501(c)(3) and 508(c)(1)(A), when applied to churches, are unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment on their face. They are laws passed by Congress which respect and establishment of religion and prevent the free exercise thereof. See, Church Internal Revenue Code § 508(c)(1)(A) Tax Exempt Status and the links therein.

The tyrannical turn of the Court could have been predicted by anyone with a firm grasp of biblical principles. Even during the debates over ratification of the Constitution, some men predicted such a turn by the Court. For, example, Robert Yates, an ardent anti-federalist and delegate to the Constitutional Convention from New York, in opposing the Constitution, predicted the process by which the federal judiciary would achieve primacy over the state governments and other branches of the national government:

  • “Perhaps nothing could have been better conceived to facilitate the abolition of the state governments than the constitution of the judicial. They will be able to extend the limits of the general government gradually, and by insensible degrees, and to accommodate themselves to the temper of the people. Their decisions on the meaning of the constitution will commonly take place in cases which arise between individuals, with which the public will not be generally acquainted; one adjudication will form a precedent to the next, and this to a following one.” Mark R. Levin, Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2005), pp. 27-29 citing Robert Yates, “Essay No. 11,” Anti-federalist Papers first published in the New York Journal, March 20, 17 Available at www.constitution.org.

The abridged history and analysis above, especially when one goes to the more comprehensive sources cited, prove that Federer  (1) asked the wrong question, a question which he did not answer; (2) is totally wrong in stating, “The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state.” He produces statements from judges stating that that the court holdings do not call for a total separation between church and state without explaining the facts and issues in those cases. Analysis of those cases prove that the courts are not considering the relationship between a church or churches and the state; they are considering matters which were never envisioned by First Amendment “separation of church and state,” matters which separated God and state. One can go to those cases to verify what I say. Here are the links: ACLU v Mercer County, 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, December 20, 2005  (this is as Federer cited the case); Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971); McCullum v Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203, Wallace v. Jafree, 1985, dissent, 472 U. S., 38, 99 (dissent), Engel v. Vitale, 1962, dissent (as cited by Federer), Zorach v Clausen, 1952 (as cited by Federer).

“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2).


Federer’s method, in the American Minute publications I have read, is to grab a lot of facts, including quotes, from all kinds of sources. Standing alone, the “facts” he presents sound good and even inspirational, but taken together they are disjointed, out of context, and woefully incomplete. He leaves out a lot or relevant historical material. He leaves out immediate and overall context. For example, his quotes from court cases are out of the context of the entire case and also omit the overall context of related cases, history, etc. When contextually examined, his material is inaccurate and/or misleading. He intersperses conclusions, assumptions, questions, and incomplete explanations. Under honest learned examination, his writings are incomplete, confusing, incorrect, and hard to decipher.

An honest analysis of any historical matter must include all the facts. An honest analysis of quotes seeks the truth of those quotes. An honest use of quotes from a legal case must include an analysis of the entire case to include the facts of the case, the legal arguments being made, the context of any given quote, the cases cited to support or oppose the holding, whether the quote is from a majority or dissenting opinion, and whether the case overrules or upholds precedent, and the views of the writer of the quote—was he a strict constructionist or did he embrace the “living breathing Constitution that could be changed with the winds of time?  Primarily he should look to the Word of God for God’s judgment on spiritual matters. What does God say about it?

The weapons of Christian warfare are:

  1. Truth.
  2. Righteousness: “Purity of heart and rectitude of life; conformity of heart and life to the divine law. righteousnessas used in Scripture and theology, in which it is chiefly used, is nearly equivalent to holiness, comprehending holy principles and affections of heart, and conformity of life to the divine law. It includes all we call justice, honesty and virtue, with holy affections; in short, it is true religion.”
  3. The gospel of peace.
  4. Faith.
  5. Salvation.

Ephesians 6:13-17.

American Christianity has been a victim of Christian revisionist teaching. That is why all their efforts, which have been concentrated in the political, not the spiritual, realm, have been counterproductive. After decades of fighting, the slide of America toward the judgment of God is accelerating at an alarming rate. The reason—Revisionists leaders and their pastor and church allies who have predominated the Christian landscape have led the way. God will not honor a warfare which is not fought His way and according to His principles. How in the world can “Christians” save American when they ignore the fact that they have destroyed their churches?

The History and Meaning of “Establishment of Religion” in America

A Publication of Churches Under Christ Ministry

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Jerald Finney
December 18, 2017

This article will succinctly answer several questions:

  1. What did “establishment or religion” mean in the colonies?
  2. What did “establishment or religion” mean at the time of the adoption of the First Amendment?[i]
  3. What happened with the remaining forced religious establishments after the adoption of the First Amendment?
  4. What does “establishment or religion” mean today?


I. Introduction: Meaning of “Establishment of Religion”
II. The Path to Multiple Establishments in the American Colonies
III. State Establishments
IV. Conclusion

I. Introduction: Meaning of “Establishment of Religion”

First Amendment Religion Clause

To understand these issues, one must first define “establishment of religion” and understand the meaning of “law ‘respecting’ an ‘establishment of religion.” At the adoption of the First Amendment, “No law respecting” meant “no law concerning or touching the subject of.” That still leaves unresolved the meaning of “establishment of religion.” Prior to colonization and for some time thereafter, “establishment of religion” meant one officially recognized church which worked with, over, or under the state, the civil government. The original meaning of “establishment of religion” which existed prior to and at the founding of America, was replaced by a “multiple establishment” understanding long before the adoption of the First Amendment. “The evidence demonstrates that by an establishment of religion the framers meant any government policy that aided religion and its agencies, the religious establishments.”[ii]

“After the American Revolution, seven of the fourteen states that comprised the Union in 1791 required establishments of religion by law. The other states which originally had established churches, had already done away with forced establishment in favor of chosen establishment and they all provided for multiple establishment. No state maintained a single or preferential establishment of religion. An establishment of religion meant to those who framed and ratified the First Amendment what it meant to the states: support of religion on a nonpreferential basis. It was specifically this support on a nonpreferential basis that the establishment clause of the First Amendment sought to forbid.”[iii]

In 1833, Massachusetts became the last state to replace forced establishment of religion with establishment of religion by choice. The First Amendment forbade establishment of religion in federal jurisdiction.

II. The Path to Multiple Establishments in the American Colonies

Establishment by choice and the free exercise of religion (soul liberty) took different paths in America. Almost all the colonies started out with single establishments of religion. Due to a variety of factors, by the time of the adoption of the First Amendment, all state establishments, whether by force or choice, were general or multiple establishments.

In the conventional sense, before the colonization of America as well as in most of the original colonies when founded, an establishment of religion meant the legal union of government and a single church or denomination such as Catholicism (numerous European countries), Calvinism (Geneva), Presbyterianism (Scotland), Lutheranism (Germany), or the Church of England.

With the founding of the colonies, conventional establishments existed in the southern colonies of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. In 1778, South Carolina created an establishment or religion endorsed by William Tennent. “He called it a ‘general establishment’ because it recognized and nurtured the legal equality of all Protestants without preferring one denomination over others.” These general establishments were replaced by multiple establishment.

New England, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut at first had single establishments, Congregationalism. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire were founded and ruled by the Puritans, who came to American for freedom of religion “for themselves only.” The Puritans felt that they were the right people, at the right place, at the right time to establish a “city on a hill” to light the world, to show the world the rightness and resulting blessings of doing things God’s way (according to their Calvinist theology). Their experiment was well on its way to self-destruction by 1660. Gradually, the exclusive establishments in these New England colonies were replaced by multiple establishments.

Persecutions of “heretics,” those whose conscience prohibited them from bowing down to the colonial establishments were well documented. Those who supported establishment of their church were persecuted when in a colony with another established church. For example, Anglicans in New England were persecuted when they went to Massachusetts, and Presbyterians and others were persecuted to one extent or another in Virginia and other southern colonies. However, in opposing the persecuting establishment, they never favored complete separation of church and state and combined church and state when in the majority or in control.

A minority remnant of the Baptists were the only ones who consistently stood against union of church and state. That most Baptists by that time did not oppose total separation of church and state became clear when most of them sought certificates and compromised on the issue when the move toward multiple establishments had taken force.

Among those who stood their ground and led the fight against any establishment were Roger Williams, Dr. John Clarke, Isaac Backus, and John Leland. In New England, Roger Williams, Dr. John Clarke, and later, Isaac Backus wrote extensively against establishment and chronicled the persecutions which continued until the eve of the American Revolution and after, to a lesser extent.[iv] On the eve of the American Revolution, in 1774, eighteen Baptists were jailed in Warwick, Massachusetts for refusing to pay taxes in support of the town’s Congregational minister. To be exempted from paying the ministerial tax, a Baptist had to obtain a certificate that he regularly attended a church of his own denomination. For a copy of the certificate, he had to pay a tax of four pence. Isaac Backus, and some of his followers opposed the tax and the certificate and maintained that they were persecuted by the Congregational majority. John Adams, a Congregationalist (Puritan) leader stated that the establishment was “but a slender one” that did not infringe religious liberty.

In 1774, Baptists still paid ministerial taxes in Virginia and other colonies for building churches and were imprisoned for preaching in unlicensed Houses, preaching without Anglican ordination, and for other infractions.  Virginia Baptists were beaten by mobs, fined, and imprisoned for their religious beliefs which prevented them from obeying the laws of the established Anglican Church. The Virginia establishment originated with the colonies first charter in 1606.

Rhode Island not only never had an establishment of any kind, but also commanded complete religious freedom of soul liberty for all. Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey had no establishment of religion, but did not allow complete religious freedom for all. For example, Pennsylvania did not grant freedom of religion to Catholics.

In New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, the pattern of establishment was diversified and unique. New York was the first example of an establishment very different from the European type, a general establishment without preference to one church over others.

III. State Establishments

The First Amendment, which until 1947 applied only to the federal government, forbade establishment of religion and guaranteed soul liberty at the national level only. After the First Amendment was adopted, states which still had laws requiring establishment gradually amended their constitutions to do away with the requirement that churches be “established.” All state constitutions allow churches to became established, but also provide that a church can make the choice not to become established. State constitutional provisions regarding church and state do not require establishment and also mandate soul liberty or the free exercise of religion.

A remnant of the Baptists continued to stand against any kind of establishment, including establishment by incorporation until all states had done away with forced establishment. John Leland was notable Baptist preacher, writer, and activist against union of church and state during a period starting in the 1780’s in Virginia and later in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The efforts and writings of earlier Baptist leaders, especially those of Isaac Backus, continued their influence during this period. Most Baptists had already been severed from their roots and betrayed God and their historic Baptist forefathers who had stood against the establishment to the death.[v]

New Jersey (1776), Pennsylvania (1776), New York (1777), and Delaware (1776 and 1792) made clear in their Constitutions that there would be no coerced establishment of religion.

North Carolina, by its constitution of 1776, became the first southern state to enact preferential establishment. “In Maryland, Georgia, and South Carolina, ‘an establishment of religion’ meant very much what it did in the three New England states that maintained multiple establishments. However, those three southern states merely permitted but did not create establishment.”[vi]

In six other states, pro-establisment parties were forced to make concessions to the growing sentiment against any forced establishments. Four other states replaced single establishments by authorizing multiple establishments, and two substituted multiple establishments for dual ones. “The evidence relating to each of these six proves that an …an establishment of religion was not restricted in meaning to a state church or to a system of public support of one sect alone; instead, and establishment of religion meant public support of several or all churches, with preference to none.”[vii]

Three of these states—Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut—were in New England. The 1780 Massachusetts Constitution allowed for the possibility that a Baptist or some other minority minister might be elected by a town and receive the taxes of his congregation. This happened in several towns where the Baptists became the majority. In those towns, the Baptist ministers, by law, were supposed to receive their salaries from the town treasuries. As the Reverend John Leland pointed out, in towns where Baptists formed a majority, they might “tax all in the town or precincts to part with their money for religious uses,” thereby violating Baptist principles.[viii] A minority of Baptists stood on Bible principles and followed Isaac Backus in refusing to compromise their beliefs; but a majority followed men such as Hezekiah Smith and compromised on the important doctrine of separation of church and state. The conflicts continued until 1833, when Massachusetts became to last state to do away with required establishments.

New Hampshire’s establishment of religion after the Revolution did not significantly differ from that of Massachusetts. Article VI of its 1784 Declaration of Rights created a multiple establishment. The majority of New Hampshire’s Baptists, sometimes sought the incorporation of their churches, as in Massachusetts, to insure tax exemption of their congregants from a local Congregational church. But, says William G. McLoughlin, most of the petitions to incorporate “seemed to originate from the Baptists’ desire to enable their congregations to levy religious taxes on their own members which could be binding in law,” the Baptists as well as Congregationalists also accepted from the state ministerial lands regardless of the demands of some of them for a separation of church and state.[ix] The establishment of religion in New Hampshire fell victim to state politics, not to the drive to separate church and state because of the principle of voluntarism. “Voters, increasingly non-Congregationalist, rallied around the Democrats’ condemnation of the tax system as having promoted an establishment of religion that supposedly favored the prevailing denomination at the expense of the religious liberty of others.” The Democrats passed a Toleration Act in 1919 that ended the system of tax support for religion.[x]

In 1784, Connecticut passed its Toleration Act which allowed certain Protestant denominations to publicly worship “in a way agreeable to their consciences” and be exempted from taxes if they produced certificates. Due to continuing protests and changes in the law which did not satisfy many dissenters who continued to protest, a law was passed that allowed nonconformists to write their own certificates attesting membership in a different religious society which they supported, thus exempting them for the support of the town church. John Leland, in a tract describing the evils of an establishment of religion, did not doubt that Connecticut had one, even though one’s contribution to religion went to the church whose worship one attended.[xi]

The battle in Connecticut continued. In 1802, the Baptists petitioned the legislature to repeal the system of compulsory religious taxes; held a statewide convention remonstrating against Connecticut’s establishment because it favored the Congregationalists and because religion should be left to voluntary support, petitioned the government in 1804 because the required certificates did not apply to the Congregationalists as well as others. The consistent argument of the Baptists, except for a minority led by Isaac Backus, was that the existing church-state relationship preferred Congregationalism and that private donations should be the only source of support to religion, despite Baptist participation in the establishment’s largess. In 1816, Connecticut received a windfall repayment from the United States for its costs incurred in the War of 1812 and divided 6/7 of it among the denominations and the Baptists accepted their share. The Baptists, except for a remnant who stood for complete separation of church and state, compromised when it became “practical.” In 1818, Connecticut provided that no one could be compelled to support any religious society, yet allowed any religious society to tax itself and privately collect the assessment from each member. As with every state, Connecticut provided for voluntary incorporation by churches.

“Maryland’s constitution of 1776 ended the former supremacy of the Episcopalian church, which had an exclusive establishment during the colonial period; but allowed the legislature to legislate multiple or nonpreferential establishment of “Christian,” to include Roman Catholic churches. In 1810, Maryland amended its constitution to remove any taxation for support of any religion. Churches could still incorporate under state law, but no religious taxes were to be collected from anyone.

When the First Amendment was adopted, South Carolina’s constitution permitted multiple establishment and collection of taxes for religious support of the established churches. Under the constitution of 1778, all Protestant denominations were treated equally. “Any religious society of a Protestant denomination might therefore be incorporated and become ‘a church of the established religion of this State’ on condition of subscribing to articles of faith: a belief in God, a promise to worship him publicly, profession of Christianity as ‘the true religion’ and reliance on the Scriptures as divinely inspired.” No one was required to pay toward any church that he did not “freely join.” This was the first religious establishment ever that “did not exact religious assessments.” [xii] The 1790 South Carolina constitution did away with religious taxes altogether, but still allowed incorporation of churches.

The Baptists led the fight for religious liberty in Virginia. Many were abused and jailed for their refusal to bow down to the established church/state in Virginia. They influenced statesmen like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison to fight for religious liberty in Virginia. The result was the 1776 Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty.

Although Virginia still had single establishment before 1776, no state or colony had a statute that included every religion. Three of the states with multiple establishments authorized by law established Protestantism and three established Christianity. The establishments of all six included all denominations and sects with a sufficient number of members to form a church. Protestantism was synonymous with religion because Jews and Roman Catholics were nonexistent or too few to make a difference; “and where Christianity was established, as in Maryland which had many Catholics, Jews were scarcely known.” “Clearly the provisions of these six states show that to understand the American meaning of “an establishment of religion” one cannot adopt a definition based on European experience.”[xiii]

Georgia’s constitution of 1777 permitted multiple establishment without exception, thereby replacing the exclusive establishment of the Anglican church. The establishment of religion meant government tax support of all churches, with preference for none. The 1789 constitution permitted multiple establishments. In 1798, Georgia finally guaranteed nonpreferential establishment of religion and that no person should be “obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or any other rate, for  … any place of worship, or for maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right, or hath voluntarily engaged.”

Vermont became the fourteenth state in 1791 and had a multiple establishment. Due largely to the stand of Baptists in Vermont, that state repealed all laws concerning taxation for religion, thus doing away with forced union of church and state.

IV. Conclusion

Every church has a choice – either under God only or under man (civil government).

As establishment became available to all churches,  many or the majority of churches incorporated. Today the overwhelming majority of churches, to include Baptist churches, incorporate in order to obtain perceived temporal earthly benefits for the state governments. After the addition of 26 United States Code §§ 501(c)(3) and 508, churches sought perceived benefits from the federal government as well by obtaining “tax exempt” status.

All church state establishments which have ever existed came about as a result of a civil government law which combined church and state. In all cases, a church or churches combined with the state under man’s law for perceived benefits from the state. That is the case in America. Even today, one of the reasons for choosing such arrangements is financial. All reasons given by churches for joining with the state are based upon man’s temporal, fleshly, earthly and legal reasoning. All such reasons, by their very nature, circumvent God’s eternal, spiritual, heavenly, and Biblical principles for His churches. [xiv]


[i] See, for list of source authorities, List of Scholarly Resources Which Explain and Comprehensively Document the True History of Religious Freedom in America.

[ii] Leonard W. Levy, The Establishment Clause/Religion and the First Amendment (London: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1986), p. xiv.

[iii] Id., p. xvi.

[iv] See, e.g., Isaac Backus. A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians Called Baptists, Volumes 1 and 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, Previously Published by Backus Historical Society, 1871)(originally published in the late 1700’s); Williams, Roger and Underhill, Edward Bean. The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed and Mr. Cotton’s Letter Examined and Answered. London: Printed for the Society, by J. Haddon, Castle Street, Finsbury, 1848 (Reprint)(originally published in 1644); Clarke, John. Ill News from New-England or A Narative of New-Englands Persecution. Paris, Ark.: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., Reprint: 1stprinted in 1652; List of Scholarly Resources Which Explain and Comprehensively Document the True History of Religious Freedom in America.

[v] See, for more information, A Brief History of the First Amendment. That brief article gives links to more resources for the interested student.

[vi] Levy, The Establishment Clause/Religion and the First Amendment, p. 47.

[vii] Levy, p. 26.

[viii] “The Yankee Spy” (1794), in L.F. Greene, ed., The Writings of John Leland (New York, reprint 1969), pp. 225, 227, cited in id., p. 40. John Leland (May 14, 1754 – January 14, 1841) was an American Baptist minister who preached in Virginia,, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, as well an outspoken abolitionist. He was an important figure in the struggle for religious liberty in the United States.

[ix] William G. McLoughlin, New England Dissent 1630-1833: The Baptists and the Sepration of Church and State (Cambridge, Mass., 1971, 2 vols.), II, pp. 874, 886, cited in Levy, The Establishment Clause/Religion and the First Amendment, p. 40.

[x] Levy, p. 40.

[xi] John Leland, “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable,” in Writings of John Leland, p. 186.

[xii] Levy, p. 50-51.

[xiii] Levy, p. 60-61.

[xiv] See, for a complete understanding of church incorporation and church 26 United States Code §§ 501(c)(3) and 508 status, Separation of Church and State: God’s Churches – Spiritual or Legal Entities?