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Letter: 'Don't make laws concerning how I practice my faith'

To the editor,

I'm concerned about society's definition of "separation of church and state." The common belief today is that the first amendment (in regards to religion) implies a separation of church and state, that religious expression has no place in government and that any and all references to God in public and government spaces must be removed. The facts are that this phrase does not appear anywhere in the Constitution, and the First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

This phrase was taken from an exchange of letters between President Thomas Jefferson and the Baptist Association of Danbury, Conn., shortly after Jefferson became President (1801). The Danbury Baptists expressed to Jefferson their grave concern over the entire concept of the First Amendment, including of its guarantee for "the free exercise of religion." Their initial interpretation of the first amendment was that the right of religious expression was government-given rather than God-given, and their concern was that the government might someday attempt to regulate religious expression. In his return letter to the Danbury Baptist Association on Jan. 1, 1802, he stated: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."

It's clear to me that this statement was made to protect the church, not protect the government. My concern is that this common misconception is now influencing our lawmakers and infiltrating our courts. I'm concerned that my kids will be accused of hate speech if they express a Christian world view on today's hot-button topics. I'm worried about parents losing their rights to what their kids are exposed to in public school curriculum. I'm worried about our churches losing their tax-exempt status if they speak out against abortion or same-sex marriage.

My thoughts: Yes, separation of church and state! Government, don't limit my freedom of speech. Don't make laws concerning how I practice my faith.

Derek Warner