Tag Archives: One Nation Under Law: America’s Early National Struggles to Separate Church and State

Introduction to “Religion Clause Jurisprudence”

Jerald Finney
Copyright © January 13, 2012

Click here to go to links to all Chapters in Section V.

Introduction to
Section V of God Betrayed
“Religion Clause Jurisprudence”

Pr.29.2“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Pr. 29.2). “Evil men understand not judgment: but they that seek the LORD understand all things” (Pr. 28.5). “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9.17).

“The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach” (Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 at 18, 91 L. Ed. 711, 67 S. Ct. 504, 168 A.L.R. 1392 (1947), reh’g denied 330 U.S. 855, 91 L. Ed. 1297, 67 S. Ct. 962, p. 18).

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

With Everson, “establishment of religionbecame something entirely different from what it had been to that point. Eventually, the new rationale of the Court in Everson, all taken together, while honoring the historical First Amendment and biblical principle of separation of church and state, would lead to the removal, or the attempt to remove, any vestige of God from civil government affairs. 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 freedom to rebel, albeit not without grave consequences.

Chapter 1
Introduction to “Religion Clause Jurisprudence”

Because of failure to understand, believe, and apply God’s principles, the “religious” jurisprudence in the United States has been on a slippery downhill slope of confusion and destruction since the ratification of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. At first the slope was nonexistent or slight, but starting in the mid-twentieth century the grade increased. The United States Supreme Court added new meaning to “separation of church and state,” meaning which was used to remove all vestiges of God from public life and public view.

8While upholding the original meaning of the First Amendment religion clause, the Supreme Court has supplemented the original meaning of that clause. The original meaning of the religion clause was to protect the church from state regulation and the state from church regulation.

“The constitutional inhibition of legislation on the subject of religion has a double aspect. On the one hand it forestalls compulsion by law of the acceptance of any creed or the practice of any form of worship…. On the other hand, it safeguards the free exercise of the chosen form of religion…. The interrelation of the ‘establishment’ and ‘free exercise’ clauses [according to the United States Supreme Court] has been well summarized as follows: ‘The structure of our government has, for the preservation of civil liberty, rescued the temporal institutions from religious interference. On the other hand, it has secured religious liberty from the invasion of the civil authority’” (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 citing Everson).

A biblical and historical Baptist principle is that God desires separation of church and state, not separation of God and church or separation of God and state. Study Jerald Finney's writings and/or audio teachings to discover the truth about and how to apply the principle. Finney's teachings prove that the revisionist view of Separation of Church and State accepted without examination by most American
A biblical and historical Baptist principle is that God desires separation of church and state, not separation of God and church or separation of God and state. Study Jerald Finney’s writings and/or audio teachings to discover the truth about and how to apply the principle. Finney’s teachings prove that the revisionist view of Separation of Church and State accepted without examination by most American “Christians” is false and has done great damage to the cause of Christ and to America.

The First Amendment was meant to prevent “the establishment of a religion” and to “protect the  free exercise thereof.” In other words,  religion, including churches, according to the First Amendment religion clause, are to work under, hand and hand with, or over the state. The Court still upholds the “high and impregnable” wall between church and state. A wall separates two sides each from the other. This concept of separation of church and state is the principle God established for Gentile nations.

However, the twentieth century Court has added an additional aspect to the First Amendment religion clause. The Supreme Court, while proclaiming that the First Amendment guarantee of biblical separation of church and state is still in effect, also supplemented the religion clause to require separation of God and state.

History is clear about the fact that the God of the Bible was honored by the people, and especially the great majority of leaders, of America at the time of the founding of the nation and for sometime thereafter (See, e.g., Jerald Finney, God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application (Austin, TX: Kerygma Publishing Co., 2008), Section V and the many books cited therein). The people of America knew that the God of the Bible was the only true God.

The nineteenth century Supreme Court held a different view from the modern Court. The nineteenth century Court looked to historical facts to support its contention that this was a Christian nation. Although the Constitution established a nation upon a blend of enligntenment and biblical principles, the nineteenth century court selected partial facts without understanding and incorrectly contended that America was a “Christian” nation (Rector, Etc., of Holy Trinity Church v. United States, 143 U.S. 457, 12 S. Ct. 511 (1892)). When the unregenerate dominated the Court in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Court looked to an incomplete version of historical facts and to a new twist on the First Amendment to remove God from all public affairs and to effectively declare that this is not a Christian nation. At the same time, the Court proclaimed that the original meaning of the First Amendment religion clause is still in effect.

14thAm.The Supreme Court did two things which ultimately resulted in the assurance that God and His principles would not in any way be over the United States or any state therein. First, it gradually deconstructed the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment to the point where the Court began to apply the First Amendment to state, county, and city governments.

Second, the Supreme Court redefined separation of church and state in such a way that allowed the Court to begin to separate God and state on the national, state, county, and city government levels. The twentieth century Court operated in a nation where the state got into areas where it had no God-given and/or Constitutional jurisdiction—education of children, welfare, retirement (social security), childcare, income taxation, etc. In this new environment, the Court redefined “separation of church and state” in such a way that God and state were separated, thereby ensuring the degradation of the nation into gross immorality on a national scale and the ultimate judgment of God upon the nation. God was excluded from the public life of the nation and a pluralistic nation resulted. For the Supreme Court, the term “religion” became a way to categorize spiritual matters in any way connected to “church,” to “God,” or to “a god.” Even should the Court permit a vestige of God to remain, such permission was granted in a pejorative manner which dishonored God. An example is recent Ten Commandments jurisprudence which is discussed in the articles which follow in this section.

1According to the modern Supreme Court, the civil government is to remain neutral as to “religion.” “The First Amendment reflects the philosophy that church and state should be separated. Yet it neither says nor requires that in every conceivable respect there must be a total separation of church and state. Thus, while laws giving direct aid to religion are not permitted, laws which incidentally benefit religion are not, for that reason alone, invalid…. All that is required is that the government stand neutral between one religion and another, and between religion and nonbelief, and not become excessively entangled in the affairs of religion…” (Kramer, § 2).

This neutrality toward “religion,” as defined and applied by the Court, was interpreted to be not only neutrality toward religion, but also hostility toward God. God, His authority, and His principles were deemed inapplicable to the affairs of the civil government. The Court made the decision for the nation: “God, you are out. You are at best equal to nonbelief and to the gods of all other ‘religions.’” Too bad for the nation that the nation is not the sovereign. God is the Sovereign who has allowed the nation to make its temporary and self-destructive choice.

At the same time, the original meaning of the religion clause is generally upheld by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court still declares that the original meaning of the First Amendment, forbidding the state to interfere in the affairs of a church and vice-versa, is still in effect. The Court still declares the “wall of separation between church and state” to be “high and impregnable.” The original intent of the First Amendment establishment clause—that the state not be over the church nor the church over the state and that people be free to exercise their religious beliefs (as long as those beliefs do not run afoul of criminal law)—has consistently been proclaimed by the Supreme Court. See, The History of the First Amendment.

1As is explained in Section VI of God Betrayed, the position of the Supreme Court which has upheld the separation of church and state has been skirted by the legislative and executive branches through laws which have lured most churches to place themselves under the civil government through legal entity status such as incorporation and 501(c)(3) and by presidential “faith based initiatives.” As far as the author has been able to ascertain, the courts have never been asked to rule on the constitutionality of such legislation and presidential actions.

Certainly many “Christian” and all secular authors have no knowledge or understanding of the Word of God. Therefore, their arguments are foolish. Many Christians and secularists correctly point out that the terms “separation of church and state,” “church,” “state,” and “separation” do not appear in the Constitution (See Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 118 citing Edwin S. Corwin, Constitution of Powers in a Secular State, (Charlottesville, Virginia: Michie Co., 1951), p. 98). Christians use that fact to argue that church and state should work together, or that the church should be involved with the state. Admittedly, individual Christians, not churches, should, if God so directs, become involved in the civil government; and both New Testament churches and Christians should communicate their political beliefs including who to vote for based upon biblical standards applied to the beliefs of the candidates. Nonetheless, this is a poor argument for 2Christians to use because God wants separation of church and state in Gentile nations (See The Biblical Doctrine of Separation of Church and State) and because the Constitution provided for separation of church and state. The correct argument for the Christian is that the people and the leaders should place the Sovereign, that is, God over the state in the manner already explained in these studies and that God desires that every man have the religious liberty as guaranteed by the First Amendment which separates church and state.

Secularist arguments in support of a complete removal of God from all civil governmental affairs are equally invalid. For example, Leo Pfeffer, a constitutional scholar, asserted that “it was inevitable that some convenient term [‘separation of church and state’] should come into existence to verbalize a principle so clearly and widely held by the American people.” I question whether the overwhelming majority of Americans clearly and widely can or could intelligently discuss the subject now or when Pfeffer wrote. In support of this argument, he asked, “Who would deny that ‘religious liberty’ is a constitutional principle [even though] that phrase is not in the Constitution” (Pfeffer, p. 119)? His writings and advocacy as a lawyer, including his advocacy before the Supreme Court, make clear that his idea of religious liberty—to remove God from state affairs—was entirely different from the biblical principle. He had absolutely no spiritual understanding. He was used by the god of this world to advocate for a “Godless” civil government.

1Thus, one reason for America’s rapid slide downhill has been the lack of knowledge and understanding of biblical principles—this can be related to the fact that the Constitution itself was a blend of biblical and enlightenment principles. Even though some biblical principles were inherent in the structure of the Constitution and the First Amendment provided for religious liberty and separation of church and state, the Constitution did not declare that the goal of the nation was the glory of God. The Constitution did not declare that God, and specifically the Lord Jesus Christ, was Sovereign over the nation. The nation was not, according to its highest statement of law, required to turn to the principles of the Bible in deciding its questions of law, to recognize God in its official prayers and organic utterances, or to point out that the God of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ, was the Sovereign over all institutions including individual, family, nation, and church. Since the body of the Constitution made no mention of God, and since certain enlightenment principles were embodied into the Constitution, the document itself is of little help to those who support biblical principles and argue that this nation as founded was a “Christian” nation, or a nation under God. This can be discerned from numerous Supreme Court opinions as exemplified infra in this section.

The Constitution, while separating church and state, also failed to declare that God was to be over the state. In the early history of the new nation, many referred to the need for  religion, or even “God” to be  involved in the state. The New York Methodist church in 1808 promoted the spread of the Gospel over the entire earth, and fought humanism with Scriptural truth and holy living. Christians used their vote to elect Christians who would uphold their Christian ideas.

“The Rev. John Mason preached that ‘the principles of the gospel are to regulate [people’s] political as well as their other conduct.’ He scoffed at the idea that ‘religion has nothing to do with politics!’ asking rhetorically, ‘Where did you learn this maxim?’ To the contrary, he offered, ‘the Bible is full of directions for your behavior as citizens,’ citing in example Col. 3:17 ‘And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.’ Other New York ministers expressed similar sentiments to their congregations, representing civil government as a ‘subsidiary’ to God’s grand design of preparing saints for the future and ‘the civil magistrate as God’s officer.’ …
2“[Thomas Jefferson stated ‘The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbors to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pockets, nor breaks my leg.’]. Mason wrote: ‘This is nothing less than representing civil society as founded in Atheism. For there can be no religion without God. And if it does me or my neighbor no injury, to subvert the very foundation of religion, by denying the being of God, then religion is not one of the constituent principles of society, and consequently society is perfect without it’” (Mark Douglas McGarvie, One Nation Under Law: America’s Early National Struggles to Separate Church and State (DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005), pp. 124-125).

It is disputed whether Jefferson advocated public abstention in matters of religion, but many clergymen felt that he was atheistic.

  • “Public abstention amounted to the denial of a single religious truth; and once a government rejects the idea of one religious truth, it is rendered unable to act upon any religious doctrine in constricting the laws, values, and policy aims of that society. But the idea that any God could himself, or herself or itself, be relativistic is absurd—how can any true living God accept all suggestions of his, her, or its own existence as merely speculative or one of many unprovable theories? If God could not accept religious relativism, how could America? The advocacy of religious relativism is logically inconsistent with the acceptance of any true, living God. Accordingly, the ministers insisted that when a government assumed such a position, it rejected the existence of God as well as God’s role in governing” (Ibid.).

21Generally speaking, the people of the United States, against an increasing current of liberalism, have determined the course of the nation. As long as the nation had a predominantly Christian population, God was honored to a degree in the public life of the nation, although Christian values, even in the early life of the new nation, were gradually being undermined by non-Christian principles in the legal arena. America, with all its faults, to an extent proceeded “under God” for over a hundred and fifty years even though the nation’s highest law, the Constitution, had, on its face, been about “the happiness of man” and not the “glory of God” from the beginning—this fact is apparent from a facial reading of the document as well as from a study of history before, during, and after ratification.

Great revivals occurred at the time the Constitution was ratified and for some time thereafter, and multitudes were saved. As a result, the nation was saturated with Christians, and the integrity of the nation was thereby preserved to an extent. On the other hand, the legal system began to apply enlightenment principles to redefine marriage, the family, the church, criminal law, and the law in general. Although an examination of this movement is beyond the scope of this book, it is important to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the context in which future First Amendment jurisprudence unfolded.

Because the population was predominantly Christian, or at least honored the Bible and God to an extent, American civil government, to a great degree, initially operated under God. Many 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 (Rector, Etc., of Holy Trinity Church v. United States).  God was honored by some, if not most, civil government organizations and officials in their official 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. Among the myriad examples is the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of President George Washington:

  • 1“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…” (Norman Cousins, In God We Trust (Kingsport, Tennessee: Kingsport Press, Inc., 1958), pp. 71-72; quoted only in part. Notice that even President Washington included the purpose of the nation as being the “safety and happiness” of the people.). [Emphasis mine to show enlightenment influence.]

Things have changed. Although the First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion or preventing the free exercise thereof,” the civil government, contrary to the mandate of that amendment, through laws passed by Congress and approved by the President, controls and even defines the corporate 501(c)(3) religious organization and undermines such organizations with the promotion and support of most and participation by some “Christians.”

6The Supreme Court has not had to attack the churches to subjugate them to the civil government. Most churches have taken themselves from under the jurisdiction of God and placed themselves under the civil government through incorporation and Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) § 501(c)(3) status. Churches have done this even though the federal government acknowledges that churches are different from “religious organizations” and that the civil government has no requirement for a church to be under the state—a church can only voluntarily place itself under the state. Satan would much prefer that churches come to him willingly. Regrettably, most Christians are members of a corporate 501(c)(3) church (This aspect of civil government control of churches is covered in Section VI of God Betrayed which is reproduced on this blog.). Many Christians in incorporated 501(c)(3) religious organizations are discovering the truth, but have no knowledge about how to disentangle their churches from the state; others simply ignore the issue and continue in their polluted state.

Why have some “Christians,” as well as the Supreme Court and other branches of government, not recognized that a church is to be entirely under God and that the civil government has limited jurisdiction under God? The answers to these questions are very simple: Some “Christians” and Supreme Court justices and other civil government leaders and officials have no understanding of biblical principles or of the history of their nation concerning government (which includes the all-powerful government of God, self-government, family government, civil government, and church government), church, separation of church and state, and the proper relationship between God and state and God and His churches. They simply do not understand that God is the Sovereign over all, that God gives all civil governments the choice of whether to recognize His sovereignty and operate under His rules, and the consequences of the choices made. They have been deceived by false secular and “Christian” teaching in those areas. As a result, even “Christians” advance secular principles and arguments rather than God-honoring biblical principles and arguments.

1Co.2.14Since man does not gravitate towards God’s principles, but rather toward Satan’s principles, the Christian population of the nation decreased steadily and is now a very small remnant. A Christian population honored God individually and as a nation, to a degree, regardless of the wording of the Constitution. A Christian population applied a more biblical interpretation and understanding of the First Amendment. A non-Christian population seeks the lowest level. America is rapidly sinking to that level and is now near rock bottom.

Much of the writing concerning the First Amendment is confusing and certainly untrue since the understanding of the history of the amendment has been revised by both secular and Christian writers. Generally, either nothing is said about, or lies and revisions are dissiminated about, the power of God, His principles, and the warfare between those principles and the false versions of those principles in the theologies of many “churches” and denominations and in the revised histories of colonial America and the United States. When God and His principles are left out, revised, and/or lied about in the discussion of anything (as is almost always the case), the path is only downward toward judgment. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Pr. 9.10). “[T]he foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Co. 1.25). “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Co. 2.14). “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain” (1 Co. 3.19-20).

Incorporation of churches in the colonies and the new nation

Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 10, 2012

Note. This is a modified version of Section VI, Chapter 3 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application.

   “The Constitution did not separate church and state [on the state level], but it did endorse a conception of society that made separation inevitable. The protection of private rights from public action required the delineation of private and public activities. Once law separated public and private realms, churches could not [according to the way the law developed] continue their historic roles of public service. [States that relied on the political process to effectuate separation of church and state, an essentially state matter, encountered tremendous difficulty in doing so.] Politics could not determine the form that educational and welfare institutions would take in the early republic because no political consensus existed. The law could—and when state and federal courts turned to consider this issue, their decisions were informed by the same legal doctrine. Ultimately the Supreme Court did impose a model of privatization on all of the states, but its effect was more to redirect political debate than to resolve political tension” (Mark Douglas McGarvie, One Nation Under Law: America’s Early National Struggles to Separate Church and State (DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005), p. 13).

Incorporation of churches became an issue for the Baptists in the colonies which carried over to the states in the new nation. In the 1700s, various denominations, including Baptists, in the colony of Rhode Island “took advantage of the absence of religious establishment by incorporating to address a wide range of church goals” (Ibid., p. 98).

“Pennsylvania’s laws on religious corporations demonstrate the changing attitudes toward churches and the transformation in the tenets underlying law from the colonial era to the early republic…. In the early republic, churches were redefined, under law, as private organizations serving private and not public goals” (Ibid., pp. 98-99)  In the colonial era Pennsylvania and New York had a longer history of incorporating churches than did the other colonies. The New York legislature passed a law allowing all Protestant sects to incorporate in the 1760s. The New York Constitution of 1777 provided for “free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference” (Ibid., pp. 89, 109-110).

“[T]he developing laws of private property, enforced through contracts, were given early expression to redefine the roles of churches in American society” in a 1784 New York case involving Trinity Church who had received land in a letter from Queen Anne in 1714. The case held that “contracts made with the Crown or its agent were valid, even when made during war when the king’s authority was denied by the colonists in the midst of revolution.” “After the judicial recognition of contract rights as superior to legislative enactment, the legislature had little choice but to limit its disestablishment initiatives to comply with the prevailing contract-law doctrine.” As a result, new law was passed allowing all sects to incorporate and hold property—“the law created a new system of general incorporation for all religious bodies to follow.” All churches in the state incorporated under the new law (Ibid., pp. 112-113).

At the same time that laws providing for incorporation of churches were being made, the churches were being redefined as private entities, and care of the poor and needy was passing from the church to the state. Prior to disestablishment, taxes collected by the state were transferred to churches for salaries of pastors, building, and charities. With disestablishment, charity went with the money, that is, with the state which could collect taxes, and not with the church. Rather than perceiving churches as helping society address its concerns, churches in the 1790s were recognized as impediments to social progress as public institutions might rationally conceive of it (See, e.g., Ibid., pp. 118-119).

In South Carolina, “[d]isestablishment once more followed and conformed to the legal separation of public and private spheres.” The 1790 constitution of South Carolina guaranteed religious liberty and transformed the church into a private institution “when its power as a public institution became too threatening” (Ibid., p. 132).  After 1790, poor relief, record keeping, and education to a lesser degree passed from church responsibility to government or private citizen responsibility (Ibid., p. 148).

In Massachusetts, Isaac Backus and others were against incorporation of churches, but many Baptist churches did not heed their counsel. The issue arose because of the adoption of Article Three to the constitution of Massachusetts in 1780. Isaac Backus and other Baptists vehemently opposed its adoption. Article Three required that compulsory religious taxes be laid in each parish, as they had always been for the “support the public worship of God,” and for the “support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.” However, new was the requirement that “these taxes were to be laid upon all sects or for all sects.” “Any Protestant minister, of whatever sect, was guaranteed compulsory tax support and the minister of any sect could, if he received the majority of votes of a parish, become legally established” (William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), p. 147).

After adoption of Article Three, certain Baptists refused to pay the religious tax. One, Elijah Balkcom, was jailed and paid the tax under duress. He then sued the accessors for taxing him illegally and contrary to his constitutional right to freedom of conscience. Although the Baptist position prevailed in that case, another case two years later, Cutter v. Frost, reversed the Balkcom decision. The Superior Court in the Cutter case reconstructed Article Three against the intent of the legislators and said that dissenters had to file a certificate in order to have their taxes paid to their own church and that “only religious societies incorporated by law were under any circumstances entitled to legal recognition.” “To be incorporated, each dissenting congregation would have to petition the legislature to obtain a charter.” Hence the Superior Court closed the door to the liberty which Backus had proclaimed could not be shut after the Balkcom case. The Cutter decision “denied any way for the Baptists to avoid supporting the parish churches except by petitioning the legislature for incorporation.” Petitioning the government for incorporation “was an even more flagrant infringement of conscience than giving in certificates; it acknowledged the power of the State over the Church—the power to incorporate some and not others according to its own standards” (Ibid., pp. 158-163).

Another alternative, which was opposed by Backus, was proposed and tried—a taxpayer could file a certificate, pay the tax and, should the parish treasurer fail to pay the taxes to his own pastor, sue to have his taxes returned on the basis that the tax denied his constitutional right to freedom of conscience. This method was costly and time consuming and had to be done case by case. However, it was used with some degree of success.

Because of Cutter,many Baptist churches chose to incorporate. Hezekiah Smith led the movement of Baptist churches to incorporate in spite of opposition of Isaac Backus and the Warren Association. Many Baptists supported incorporation to comply with the Cutter case so that the state would return taxes paid by Baptists to their parishes, and to make possible contracts between the members of a church and its pastor, which assured a decent salary. Of course, Backus took the biblical position, seeing the relationship between pastor and other church members as spiritual. He believed that incorporation “acknowledged the right of the state to decide which churches could and could not be chartered,” and “gave all persons in the congregation [whether saved or not, thereby ‘allowing the unconverted members to outvote the converted’] the right to vote on building or repairing a meetinghouse as well as paying the minister’s salary” thereby bringing the same conflicts encountered by Congregational parishes. Other reasons for arguing for incorporation was to allow churches to hold property or endowment funds in the name of the church. Backus “pointed out that the law gave the deacons, or any other suitably appointed persons, the power to ‘receive and hold estates or donations which are given for religious purposes, and to manage the same at the direction and for the good of the church or society.’” Some Baptists incorporated, against Backus’ advice, to avoid distraint or imprisonment. The Religious Liberty Act of 1811 reversed the Cutter Case and applied Article Three to all churches whether incorporated or not (Ibid., pp. 220-223).

After the ratification of the Constitution, the United States Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice John Marshall, relied on the contract clause of Article I Section 10 to delineate public and private actions. “[Most c]hurches adapted to the new legal environment after 1790 by reforming themselves as private voluntary associations assuming a corporate form” (McGarvie, p. 115). The primary case in the Marshall Court decisions is the Dartmouth College case in which the Court used the contract clause to prevent New Hampshire’s legislature from breaking its contract of incorporation and restructuring the organization of a private Christian school (See Ibid., pp. 12, 152-189). Prior to Dartmouth College, “state legislatures consistently repudiated school and university charters in order to redesign educational institutions to serve political ends” (Ibid., p. 165).

Britain chartered the institution in Dartmouth College as The Trustees of Dartmouth College in 1769. Under the charter, the Trustees of Dartmouth College was an independent corporation, not requiring any further “grant, license, or conformation” (17 U.S. (4 Wheat) at 522). The college was supported by both private and state funds. The college fell under the control of orthodox conservatives who wished to emphasize the God in people’s lives and to modify the curricula appropriately. Restrictions on students were increased in 1809, and “students objecting to increased restrictions rioted, becoming drunk, burning outhouses, vandalizing more orthodox students’ rooms, firing guns into the night air, and spreading garbage over the campus environs of their suspected enemies” (McGarvie, p. 167). A public and political debate ensued pitting republican enlightenment ideals against conservative religious beliefs. The establishment of religion was at the time also being hotly debated. “Republican interests focused on the trustees of the college as dangerous ideologues inhibiting the state’s progress” (Ibid., p. 169). A republican governor and republican majority were elected in the 1816 New Hampshire election. One of the first acts of the new government was to restructure Dartmouth College. Two more followed quickly. The acts amended the charter to allow the state government to restructure the charter, rename the corporation to Trustees of Dartmouth University and the name of the school, and increased the number of trustees by nine, from twelve to twenty-one, and named the governor as the source of all new trustees and of future replacements. “Even more significant was that the act created a board of overseers, appointed by the governor to govern the university, to undertake most of the responsibilities formerly held by the trustees. The board was authorized to approve or negate any action of the trustees to appoint and remove the president and officers of the university, to set their salaries, to establish professorships, to create new buildings, and to approve all faculty appointments” (Ibid., p. 171 citing Dartmouth College, pp. 540-544).

The legislature also expanded religious freedom at Dartmouth.

The trustees fought the new laws. The president of Dartmouth, Reverend Francis Brown, outlined the philosophical divide confronting the Court, New Hampshire, and the country:

“That the labours of the philosopher were so impotent, and the preaching of the apostle attended with such energy is not strange. The mind of Plato, after all his attainments, was involved in spiritual darkness. Paul, on the other hand, was irradiated with a light from heaven, strong and clear; and the same divine spirit, who at first imparted it to his own mind, accompanied it as it was conveyed from him to his fellow man…. If instead of placing Paul in contrast with Plato alone, I had supposed all the philosophers of Greece and Rome arrayed on one side against this single apostle, the general result would have been the same” (Ibid., p. 172, citing Brown, “Sermon,” pp. 19-20).

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court which denied the state the right to unilaterally reconstruct the corporation. The main importance of the case is not in the protection of contract rights, or to decide whether a governmental creation was entitled to less protection from the government than other contracts. Those issues had been resolved in prior cases (Fletcher v. Peck, 10 U.S. (6 Cranch) 87 (1810); Terret v. Taylor, 13 U.S. 43 (1815)). The main importance of the case is in the reasoning of the Court which “expressed the Court’s perception of distinct realms of public and private action, and the role of the courts in the protection of private action from public action” (McGarvie, p. 175). According to Marshall, public institutions are not defined by their purposes, but as being part of the “civil government.” He reasoned that trustees and professors have no authority in or power over civil government, that they are not public officers and have no public duties (Dartmouth College, pp. 601-602, 635, 636). Thus, certain corporations are public and others private:

“The Dartmouth College case of 1819 was the crucial national pronouncement that repositioned the churches as private entities distinct from institutions of public governance. The decision expressed a new model of civic organization conceived with the Constitution. However, the legal model considered form rather than substance, imposing a private-public distinction and designating separate forums in which the two worldviews would hold sway. In this resolution, law perpetuated the contest between the two worldviews that form the intellectual basis of American culture” (McGarvie, p. 16).
“Arising out of the disestablishment controversy in New Hampshire, this decision sounded the death knell for New England establishment and confirmed the supremacy of liberal contract-law doctrine in all of the United States. Focusing on the contract clause of the Constitution, the Supreme Court recognized distinct private and public institutions and protected the former from interference by the latter. The old question of religious or church involvement in serving the public good, particularly in public education, was at the heart of the Dartmouth case” (Ibid., p. 152).

The case had other ramifications. Marshall wrote: “Charitable, or public spirited individuals, desirous of making permanent appropriations for charitable or other useful purposes, find it impossible to effect their design securely, and certainly, without an incorporation act” (Dartmouth College, p. 637). Thus, “unincorporated charitable institutions are too vague to receive bequests of decedents, as their intentions cannot be given definite assurance of fulfillment without a corporate charter and an organization that establishes parameters for the future use of funds” (McGarvie, p. 178). The same year, Marshall found that a court of equity could not establish “a vague legacy, the object of which is indefinite” even though the intentions of a testator to leave much of his estate to the Philadelphia Baptist Association were obvious, because “a court could not create a legal entity in order to enable it to receive a bequest consistent with a testator’s intent…. Without incorporation, under which the trustees were legally committed to serve the enunciated purposes, the funds left to an association had no assurance of being used for any specific end” (Ibid., p. 179 commenting upon Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in Trustees of the Philadelphia Baptist Association v. Hart’s Executors, 17 U.S. (3 Wheat) 1 (1819).).

  • Also, “After the Dartmouth College decision, government could not rely upon private philanthropic associations to address public perceptions of societal needs. The public-private distinction required states to define their priorities more carefully. No longer could states delegate to private concerns the responsibility for educating young people, caring for the poor, or creating roadways, because states could no longer exercise control over how these private concerns fulfilled their duties. To continue to rely on private concerns after 1819 risked creating educational, welfare, or infrastructure systems significantly at odds with legislative perceptions of the pubic interest.…
  • “In the process, civil society was redefined, separating governmental institutions from private charitable corporations. Religiously affiliated private associations pursuing their own goals remained viable on the institutional periphery of society. Marshall’s language in the Dartmouth College case expressed a major change in attitude from an earlier era: ‘These eleemosynary institutions do not fill the place which would otherwise be occupied by government, but that which would otherwise remain vacant’” (Ibid., p. 178).

Thus, the public and private spheres were divided with private spheres free to pursue their own visions for civil society, and the electorate would determine the public course of action. Protection was provided through the enforcement of contracts, an enlightenment device. The religion of secular humanism, the “religion of the republic,” “reduced Christian doctrine to its lowest common denominator, essentially a code of moral behavior expressed in the golden rule, and positioned God as a benevolent but uninvolved creator of natural laws” (Ibid., p. 188).

Since the Constitution did not recognize God in His exalted position of Supreme Sovereign of the nation and since it created a law modeled after biblical principles, including the biblical principle of separation of church and state, but leavened by some enlightenment principles, the direction of the nation in the long run could only be a much faster downward slide than if the founding documents had been formulated totally upon solid biblical principle under God.

Churches which incorporated under enlightenment principles were no longer truly free since the state created them, was their sovereign as to the earthly matters required by incorporation, and they were bound to comply with the terms of contracts which conflicted with biblical principles.