The Wall of Separation

Inventor Spin
Dominion Founding Fathers
Lost Liberty Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Encroachment Breach the Wall
Looming Threats Essential Church
Nay-Sayers Smith Act
Pearls Before Swine


Who invented separation of church and state? Its roots go deep, but one believer in the concept was Jesus of Nazareth, who said:

  • “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, 'Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?'
    But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, 'Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.'
    So they brought Him a denarius.
    And He said to them, 'Whose image and inscription is this?'
    They said to Him, 'Caesar’s.'
    And He said to them, 'Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.' When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.”
  • (Matthew 22:15-22).

  • “Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, 'Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?'
    But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, 'Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.' So they brought it.
    And He said to them, 'Whose image and inscription is this?' They said to Him, 'Caesar’s.'
    And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'
    And they marveled at Him.”
  • (Mark 12:13-17).

  • “Then they asked Him, saying, 'Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth: Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?'
    But He perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 'Why do you test Me? Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?'
    They answered and said, 'Caesar’s.'
    And He said to them, 'Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'
    But they could not catch Him in His words in the presence of the people. And they marveled at His answer and kept silent.”
  • (Luke 20:21-26).

The sphere of 'what belongs to Caesar' and 'what belongs to God' do not coincide. This has not stopped Caesar from persistently climbing up his side of the wall and grabbing things from the other side that do not belong to him. Caesar has no competence to decide religious truth or shepherd his people into heaven. This is the crux of the concept of religious toleration as it has been expressed down through the centuries: "The King is a mortal man and not God. Therefore he has no power over the immortal souls of his subjects, to make laws and ordinances for them and set spiritual lords over them." (Thomas Helwys, quoted in Baptist News Global, 'Baptist Founder Still Speaking after 400 Years,' Bob Allen, April 25, 2016.)

Not that this principle has been reliably observed in practice. Princes have upheld, and imposed upon their long-suffering people, almost every religious error that human folly has imagined, from paganism to Islam. When they teach their people the way to God, they are usurpers. Caesar rashly and illegitimately interposes himself where no interposition is possible, between the believer and the throne of grace.

Pantocrator, Macedonia

Roger Williams introduced the phrase to American political discourse, saying,

"First, the faithful labors of many witnesses of Jesus Christ, extant to the world, abundantly proving, that the Church of the Jews under the Old Testament in the type, and the Church of the Christians under the New Testament in the antitype, were both separate from the world: and that when they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the candlestick, etc., and made His garden a wilderness as it is this day. And that therefore if He will ever please to restore His garden and paradise again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world, and all that be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the wilderness of the world, and added unto His church or garden." ("Mr. Cotton's Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered," The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, Volume 1, page 108 (1644))

The 'garden' is from Song of Songs, "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed." (Song of Solomon 4:12). This they linked with the vineyard of Isaiah 5:

"Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. . .And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it." (Isaiah 5:1-6).

This fence, hedge or wall separates the congregation from the world. Breaking down the wall is God's curse, His judgment against the under-performing vineyard, not His benevolent will. The church and the state are not one and the same crowd, differently arrayed, one group in their work-day clothes and the other sporting their Sunday best, although some confused writers had considered the church of England as no more than the populace of England at prayer. Though intermingled, one cannot escape the reality that there is not one body politic eternally compacted together, but two distinct lines gathered to board buses headed for different destinations, one group surging onto the express to Hell and the other picking their way through the narrow gate toward the Heaven-bound special. They are to be kept separate because God has so ordained, their promiscuous intermingling is pernicious, not desirable.

Roger Williams, for the record, was not a Communist but a dissenting Christian, who was obliged to found Rhode Island in order to find freedom of religion in the New World. Puritan New England was a theocracy; Baptists were not tolerated, "The Lady Moody, a wise and amiable religious woman, being taken with the error of denying baptism to infants, was dealt withal by many of the elders and others, and admonished by the church at Salem." (Footnote 32, Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed). Whether you agree with the Baptists or disagree with them on this point, it would be helpful to stop identifying them as Marxists, an identification which sheds more heat than light.

The Danbury Baptists wrote to Thomas Jefferson, expressing concern about inadequate protection for their religious liberty: "Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty—that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals—that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions—that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors. . ." They based their reasoning on secular government's lack of authority over God's kingdom: "'It is not to be wondered at therefore, if those who seek after power and gain, under the pretense of government and religion, should reproach their fellow men, [or] should reproach their Chief Magistrate, as an enemy of religion, law, and good order, because he will not, dares not, assume the prerogative of Jehovah and make laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ."' (Letter of the Danbury Baptists, quoted on p. 51, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about our Third President, Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter). In his reply, Jefferson used Williams' phrase:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate 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."

"Thomas Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1802. (Letter to Danbury Baptists, U.S. Constitution Online).

Jefferson himself was a Unitarian:

Three of Six The Problem
Sister Heresy Then and Now
The Face of God Church Government
All Paths He Says
Mary in the Koran Post-Modernism
David Barton Et Tu
Desire of Nations Restoration

It is easy enough for members of religious minorities like the unitarian Jefferson or the Quakers or the Baptists to see the virtue in disestablishment, because a simple head-count will reveal that, whoever gets their hands on the public purse, it won't be them. The Anglicans and the Congregationalists had a shot at establishment, these smaller groups did not. But their numerical weakness freed them to see, and do, the right thing.

Persecution makes its victims eloquent in the defense of religious liberty, and always has: "For who is so arrogant, who so lifted up, as to forbid me to raise my eyes to heaven? Who can impose upon me the necessity either of worshipping that which I am unwilling to worship, or of abstaining from the worship of that which I wish to worship? What further will now be left to us, if even this, which must be done of one’s own will, shall be extorted from me by the caprice of another?" (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book 5, Chapter 14). The hard part is, continuing to take this viewpoint when in the majority. The very Communists defended free speech in twentieth century America, when no Communist nation on earth had any such thing. It is somewhat harsh though to tell a persecuted group, as was the early church, that they have no conception of religious liberty. They did.

According to the Bible, nothing can come between believers and their head:

  • "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
  • (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The most godly thing the American republic ever did was to enshrine protection for this wall of separation in the U.S. Constitution:

"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." (Amendment 1, Bill of Rights).

Psalm 68:30

Back when the Baptists still believed in the Bible, their support for this principle was unquestioned:

"XVIII. Religious Liberty

"God alone is Lord of the conscience, and he has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to his Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to the church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power." (1925 Baptist Faith and Message).

With today's evangelicals, unfortunately, the principle is controversial to say the least:

"I don't even support religious freedom. Religious freedom is what sends people to hell. To say I support religious freedom is to say I support idolatry. It's to say I support lies. I support hell. I support the kingdom of darkness. You can't say that. No Christian with half a brain would say we support religious freedom. We support the truth." [APPLAUSE] (John MacArthur, Grace to You, 2020 Clarity.)

Sadly he is not alone. This is a major downgrade in today's church. One could answer, 'And who can be counted on to know the truth? The government? Are you sure?' In the long history of tyranny and oppression, governments have imposed false religions like Islam on their weary, long-suffering citizens. The best way to see the truth triumph is to shove the government out of a field where it has zero competence and no rightful place at the table.

  • "In civil states the power of the whole collective body is vested in a few hands, that they may with better advantage defend themselves against injuries from abroad, and correct abuses at home, for which end a few have a right to judge for the whole society; but in religion each one has an equal right to judge for himself; for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done (not what any earthly representative hath done for him) 2 Cor. 5. 10. And we freely confess that we can find no more warrant from divine truth, for any people on earth to constitute any men their representatives, to make laws to impose religious taxes, than they have to appoint Peter or the Virgin Mary to represent them before the throne above."
  • (Isaac Backus, An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty).

Isaac Backus
 An Appeal to the Public 
for Religious Liberty

Danbury Baptists' Letter
to Thomas Jefferson

   and Remonstrance   
James Madison

One of the most grotesque miscarriages of justice in history took place when the propagandists of the self-described 'Enlightenment' declared that Christianity had invented intolerance. In theory, perhaps, pagan polytheism should be tolerant, because you can always add another godling to the pantheon. In reality, however, pagans have always found it easy to burn and torture Christians and other monotheists:

"With the exodus of bishop Wulfilas and his company, Christianity had not died out in Gothland, and the pagan chiefs, especially one of the most prominent, named Athanaric, were intent upon killing it. It made them indignant to see men of their folk withholding sacrifices from the national gods, insulting the images, even burning the sacred groves. And so the blood of martyrs flowed in Dacia. A religious test was instituted. One feast days statues were carried round the wooden dwellings in every village, and whoever refused to worship was burned alive." (The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians, J. B. Bury, Kindle location 509.)

Who taught religious intolerance to these European pagans? Certainly no Christian. Could it have been an atheist? In fact, they did not need to be taught. Given the history of Christian martyrdom, it is obscene blaming-the-victim to pretend they taught the world to do what never needed teaching.

Credit should be given where it is due and it should be understood that it was dissenting Christians who established this principle, not atheists, who have never understood nor practiced it when in power.


Not so very long ago, perceiving 'separation of church and state' as desirable was commonplace, and not just among Baptists:

"There is no question regarding our belief that the church and state (government) should be separate and distinct. Each is a unique entity, not to be consolidated. Our Lord Jesus Christ stated as much in Mark 12:17 when He said: 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'" (Charles R. Swindoll, Come before Winter, p. 209)

How then did Christian radio personalities succeed in convincing so many that atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair invented the concept? Here is a typical modern anti-Constitutional screed:

"Second, the idea of the separation of church and state was a new idea in that age, held only by some atheistic philosophers and first put into practice only with the French Revolution." (United States: A Christian Republic, Rousas J. Rushdoony, Kindle location 39).

Atheist Sam Harris goes so far in the revision of history that he not only denies Christian non-conformists agitated for religious tolerance, he denies that any religious person can ever at any time encourage tolerance:

"Certainty about the next life is simply incompatible with tolerance in this one." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 13).

This is what you are likely to hear from atheists, but it is not the case at all. The concept of religious toleration was defended, in colonial America, by Roger Williams, a religious enthusiast who founded the colony of Rhode Island. What he intended, as he made clear, was religious liberty for all, Turk, pagan, Christian:

"Sixthly. It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries: and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer: to wit, the sword of God’s Spirit, the word of God." (Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed, p. 2).

You can agree with Roger Williams or disagree with him, but there is no question he thought compliance with the New Testament instructions to the church required universal religious toleration. The Baptists, who commonly express certainty about the next life, played a central role in achieving this goal for the United States:

  • "On and on was the struggle waged by our Baptist fathers for religious liberty in Virginia, in the Carolinas, in Georgia, in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and Connecticut, and elsewhere, with one unyielding contention for unrestricted religious liberty for all men, and with never one wavering note. They dared to be odd, to stand alone, to refuse to conform, though it cost them suffering and even life itself. . .They pleaded and suffered, they offered their protests and remonstrances and memorials, and, thank God, mighty statesmen were won to their contention. Washington and Jefferson and Madison and Patrick Henry, and many others, until at last it was written into our country's Constitution that church and state must in this land be forever separate and free, that neither must ever trespass upon the distinctive functions of the other. It was pre-eminently a Baptist achievement."
  • (George W. Truett, Baptists and Religious Liberty).

Fortunately, amid all this confusion, back-sliding and misrepresentation, some traditionalists still hold for the historic Baptist principle:

Baptist Joint Committee
for Religious Liberty

I have borrowed from this web-site the excellent address delivered by George W. Truett from the East steps of the National Capitol in 1920:

George W. Truett
Baptists and
 Religious Liberty 

It may be objected: why does history not testify to these principles, but to other, darker and more more tragic? Not because of following the Bible, but the contrary:


The late post-millenialist author Rousas J. Rushdoony simplified the political options available to God's people:

  • "Law is the will of the sovereign for his subjects. Thus Law represents the word of the God of the society. Now whose Law you have, He is your God. So if Washington makes our laws, Washington is our God. As Christians we cannot believe that. For centuries, God's law has functioned wherever God's people have been, whether in Israel or in Christendom. This is a new and modern thing that we turn to the state's law. One professor of law, the dean of a law school, told me that he found that even into the 1840s, courts in the United States, decided cases out of the Bible -- out of God's Word, out of His Law -- because He is God.

  • "Now we do not recognize God as God over the United States. The oath of office for the president of the United States used to be taken on an open Bible on Deuteronomy 28 invoking all the curses of God for disobedience to His law and all the blessings of God for obedience to his law. Now basically you can have two kinds of law: theonomy -- God's law, or autonomy -- self-law. That's what it boils down to and autonomy leads to anarchy, which is what we are getting increasingly."
  • (Rousas John Rushdoony, interview quoted at Forerunner website).

Unfortunately he has simplified the options beyond those taught by Jesus. His two choices: God's law-book or anarchy,-- are the same two options offered by Muslim fundamentalists:

The reader will have noted that Rushdoony omits the democratic option: law as the will of the sovereign people. Yet this option is neither unbiblical nor ungodly. God's law is not arbitrary nor mysterious; it can be understood:

"For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Galatians 5:13-14).
"Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'You shall not covet,' and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:8-10).

Since Pentecost, God does not speak only through a few:

"But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy." (Acts 2:16-18).

This author speaks favorably of rule by bishops, without noticing that in the early years of the church, bishops, including the bishop of Rome, were elected by the popular suffrage of clergy and laity:

  • "In the first place, therefore, I Peter say, that a bishop ordained is to be, as we have already, all of us, appointed, unblameable in all things, a select person, chosen by the whole people, who, when he is named and approved, let the people assemble, with the presbytery and bishops that are present, on the Lord’s day, and let them give their consent. And let the principal of the bishops ask the presbytery and people whether this be the person whom they desire for their ruler. And if they give their consent, let him ask further whether he has a good testimony from all men as to his worthiness for so great and glorious an authority; whether all things relating to his piety towards God be right; whether justice towards men has been observed by him; whether the affairs of his family have been well ordered by him; whether he has been unblameable in the course of his life. And if all the assembly together do according to truth, and not according to prejudice, witness that he is such a one, let them the third time, as before God the Judge, and Christ, the Holy Ghost being also present, as well as all the holy and ministering spirits, ask again whether he be truly worthy of this ministry, that so “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” And if they agree the third time that he is worthy, let them all be demanded their vote; and when they all give it willingly, let them be heard."
  • (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, Section 2, IV.).

If democracy is good enough for the church, as in the early years of the church it was, then it is plenty good enough for the world. Whoever speaks against the congregation's power to govern itself, may find himself speaking against God, should that congregation be filled with the Holy Spirit.

This author's harsh exclusion of the people's right to govern themselves does find Biblical precedent: "But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed." (John 7:49). What if it is those who think they know the law who are blind? Certainly if the people are lost, they will rush to their destruction; but this author's authoritarianism will not save them, it will only stamp out the last embers of the once bright hope of rule by the people.

The excommunicated Jew Benedict de Spinoza, though not normally a reliable guide in spiritual matters, hits the nail on the head in explaining why theocracy is not now a viable option: God has taken the proffer off the table:

"Although the commonwealth of the Hebrews, as we have conceived it, might have lasted for ever, it would be impossible to imitate it at the present day, nor would it be advisable so to do. If a people wished to transfer their rights to God it would be necessary to make an express covenant with Him, and for this would be needed not only the consent of those transferring their rights, but also the consent of God. God, however, has revealed through his Apostles that the covenant of God is no longer written in ink, or on tables of stone, but with the Spirit of God in the fleshy tables of the heart." (Benedict de Spinoza, Theologico-Political Treatise, Part IV, Chapter XVIII, 1-3).

Founding a theocracy is not a do-it-yourself project. Either God establishes a theocracy, or none is established. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that any state which so desires can adopt the political blueprint of ancient Israel and become a theocracy of God's founding. If man so constituted the state, it's not a theocracy.

Rushdoony still has disciples in the world, including, some of the time, slavery apologist Douglas Wilson:


Rushdoony, a post-millenialist, never achieved the following of John Nelson Darby's dispensational system, which fires the 'Religious Right.' Unfortunately this latter system has shown an ungodly love of war: any war, even unlawful aggression against a sovereign nation. Is this Biblical?:


  • "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
  • (Matthew 7:12).

  • "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:. . ."
  • (Hebrews 12:14).

  • "Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."
  • (Psalm 34:14).

Christians Against Bush

Founding Fathers

From whence came our democratic ideals? Our political institutions are modeled on ancient Greece and Rome. Yet these slave societies never articulated the ideal of human equality. How did this ideal come into the world? Friedrich Nietzsche identified the culprit as Christianity:

  • "That, as an 'immortal soul,' everybody is equal to everybody else, that in the totality of beings the 'salvation' of every single one is permitted to claim to be of everlasting is to this pitiable flattery of personal vanity that Christianity owes its victory -- it is with this that it has persuaded over to its side everything ill-constituted, rebellious-minded, under-privileged, all the dross and refuse of mankind. [...] The poison of the doctrine 'equal rights for all' -- this has been more thoroughly sowed by Christianity than by anything else; from the most secret recesses of base instincts, Christianity has waged a war to the death against every feeling of reverence and distance between man and man, against, that is, the precondition of every elevation, every increase in culture -- it has forged out of the ressentiment of the masses its chief weapon against us, against everything noble, joyful, high-spirited on earth, against our happiness on earth...'Immortality' granted to every Peter and Paul has been the greatest and most malicious outrage on noble mankind ever committed."
  • (Friedrich Nietzsche, 'The Anti-Christ,' 43).

When we turn to John Locke to discover the impulses underlying our republic, we learn that "many are beholden to revelation, who do not acknowledge it:"

"A great many things which we have been bred up in the belief of, from our cradles, (and are notions grown familiar, and, as it were, natural to us, under the gospel,) we take for unquestionable obvious truths, and easily demonstrable; without considering how long we might have been in doubt or ignorance of them, had revelation been silent. And many are beholden to revelation, who do not acknowledge it. It is no diminishing to revelation, that reason gives its suffrage too, to the truths revelation has discovered. But it is our mistake to think, that because reason confirms them to us, we had the first certain knowledge of them from thence; and in that clear evidence we now possess them. The contrary is manifest, in the defective morality of the gentiles, before our Saviour’s time; and the want of reformation in the principles and measures of it, as well as practice. . .To one who is once persuaded that Jesus Christ was sent by God to be a King, and a Saviour of those who do believe in him; all his commands become principles; there needs no other proof for the truth of what he says, but that he said it."
(John Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity, As Delivered in the Scriptures).

This is still true today. Some people look at the American Revolution as if it were isolated in a glass vacuum bottle, forgetting that it is a 'second try:' the English people had already killed their king, under confessedly religious impulses. But he had been restored.

John Milton's 'Areopagitica' was a step on the path to free speech. It is still worthwhile for its realization that freedom is no threat to truth, only to error:

John Milton

Lost Liberty

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech:

"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."

We as a people long enjoyed this liberty, but will it survive the War on Terror? Terry Jones, who pastors a small, independent Pentecostal church in Gainesville, Florida, announced that he intended to burn the Koran as a protest on 9/11. This would normally be considered 'symbolic speech,' as when an anti-war protestor burns the American flag. The fire-bug speaker intends to communicate aversion, contempt, disdain and ill-will toward the object treated so disrespectfully. Arson can count as 'speech' under the U.S. Constitution; so says the Supreme Court:

"The First Amendment literally forbids the abridgment only of 'speech,' but we have long recognized that its protection does not end at the spoken or written word. . .In deciding whether particular conduct possesses sufficient communicative elements to bring the First Amendment into play, we have asked whether '[a]n intent to convey a particularized message was present, and [whether] the likelihood was great that the message would be understood by those who viewed it.'" (Texas vs. Johnson).

Who can doubt the Muslims would have "understood" Pastor Jones' message? That's the whole problem! The reaction of the U.S. Government to Pastor Jones' stated plan has made clear that our leaders no longer intend to protect our right to religious free speech. Whatever happened to the principle, 'I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it?'

Speech need not be eloquent, thoughtful, interesting or persuasive to be protected by the First Amendment. An obscenity scrawled across a T-shirt may be constitutionally protected speech. The right to free speech is a right enjoyed by all human persons by virtue of their creation; even the morons who wear T-shirts with obscenities scrawled across them enjoy this right. You do not have to be smart, articulate or creative to find shelter under the protection of the U.S. Constitution. The principle of free speech was stated by Justices Douglas and Black in dissent on Roth v. United States: "Government should be concerned with antisocial conduct, not with utterances."

Had Pastor Jones possessed more rhetorical skill, he might have thought up a demonstration more persuasive than burning a book, which reminds people of the Nazis. What did the Nazis ever contribute to the store of the world's literature? Their habit of incinerating others' works only showed their own impotence. Consequently people associate book-burning with the spread of darkness and the extinguishing of light. Book-burners are like the Vandals who swept across North Africa at the twilight of the classical world, destroying but never creating. Or are they always? Practitioners of magic burnt their books when they converted to Christianity: "Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver." (Acts 19:19). The Talmud recommends burning books such as the New Testament: "It was stated in the text: The blank spaces and the Books of the Minim, we may not save them from a fire. R. Jose said: On weekdays one must cut out the Divine Names which they contain, hide them, and burn the rest. R. Tarfon said: May I bury my son if I would not burn them together with their Divine Names if they came to my hand." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath 16a). The pious government of Saudi Arabia routinely confiscates and destroys Bibles unwary travellers carry into that county, Wahhabism's show-place (Fox News, 'Saudi Arabian Government Confiscates Non-Islamic Religious Items That Enter Country,' August 9, 2007).

German poet Heinrich Heine warned, "Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people." The Inquisition had done both. Why any speaker would voluntarily take upon himself so much negative baggage: the Nazis and the Inquisition,— is unclear, but it's also beside the point. Pastor Jones' proposed fiery negative review of the Koran posed no risk of putting that perennial best-seller out of print. It is not so simple as to say, only bad people burn books and thus the right so to do need not be defended. Though by his own admission he has not read the Koran and thus has nothing to contribute to the discussion, Pastor Jones nevertheless has an opinion which he has a God-given right to express. Books are not always and only good, they can also be evil, as 'Mein Kampf,' 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' and 'Atlas Shrugged;' to repudiate the content of such a book by burning it would be more impressive if accompanied by the ability to refute it, but even if unaccompanied, is still constitutionally protected free speech. Does the Koran fall in with such company or does it belong in a better category? Pastor Jones has an opinion, which the First Amendment allows him to share with the world.

When the United States sent troops into Afghanistan, the intent was not to offer these young people as hostages to Islamic extremists, so that if any private American citizen offends in any way the sensibilities of the Taliban, the threat to harm our hostages will be available at-the-ready to rein in the potential offender. Rather, they were intended to transform Afghanistan. As a Taliban-run, Islamist state, it had willingly harbored the terrorists who attacked America on 9/11. In self-defense, the U.S. proposed to change the regime and inaugurate freedom and civilization in this dark, benighted land. Certainly this was a kinder and gentler approach than carpet-bombing the place.

But sadly the Afghans turned out to have little use for liberty, certainly not religious liberty, and the U.S. commander, General David Petraeus, accordingly sought the lowest common denominator. Since Americanizing Afghanistan had failed, why not Talibanize America instead? They will not become like us, so we must become like them. Surely if we can refrain from offending them, they will not hurt us! Like the abused wife who curbs her tongue to avoid touching off her volatile husband, we must self-censor to avoid offending the mobs that gather on the Arab Street. These easily offended mobs are a fixture of the nightly TV news; when their delicate sensibilities are wounded, as they are by any hint of disagreement, they dance around like savages and burn the American flag. Since we cannot make them civilized people, then we will become dhimmis, and thus we will have peace. . .or so General Petraeus promises. But will we have peace? We will have subservience, that is certain, but peace can sometimes elude the grasp of those too eager to clutch, and too ready to give away what should be held and treasured.

Even though it is not customary for American generals to order private citizens about, drawing the line between which Constitutional rights we may exercise and which we may not, General Petraeus explained to Pastor Jones that he must not burn the Koran, or he would be responsible for the loss of American lives. The General has very little concept of individual rights, as he places very little value on individuals:

"But in this case, of course, it's one of those — issues where one person's exercise of freedom of expression jeopardizes the safety of tens of thousands of others — hundreds of thousands of others, probably, around the world. And could do — very significant damage to the image of the United States around the world, as well." (ABC Interview with General David Petraeus, September 14, 2010, ABC).

So that "one person's exercise of freedom of expression" is out of the question; the tens of thousands are simply worth more than he is, and they want safety, not freedom. I wonder how someone like General Petraeus can process the historic fact that the Founding Fathers of our country willingly jeopardized their own safety and that of hundreds of thousands of their compatriots to secure this right, now so lightly and carelessly abandoned.

This military genius, who re-discovered the very old strategy of buying peace by pushing large sums of money at one's adversaries, and used it to great effect in Iraq, has brought his magic to Afghanistan. We've given up any pretense that we can teach the Afghans to respect "one person's exercise of freedom of expression,"— and now we're not going to do that, either. In the face of the chilling effect of massive governmental pressure, Pastor Jones chickened out, as they had hoped. What is likely to come of this new 'don't make them angry' policy? Not peace and quiet, but ever-escalating demands to surrender more and more of the freedom which is our birth-right. At what point will we stop saying 'yes' to the generals and take a stand? When they burn Bibles? Oh, they've done that. When they forbid American soldiers who are Christians from practicing their religion? Oh, they've done that. When they start shutting down Christian web-sites, because Muslims are offended? They've shut down the Dove Center's site already.

The Muslim world is so weak militarily, so fragmented politically, and so backwards culturally, that thrusting the West into a posture of dhimmitude is not a goal they could hope to attain by main force. Many Muslims do not even want to achieve such a goal. But those who do don't have to rely on their own efforts, when General Petraeus is willing to do it for them. They can leverage General Petraeus' new, modern, army of hostages, whose slogan might well be 'Please don't hurt us,' willing to bear any burden, face any foe, and pay any exorbitant sum of protection money demanded of them, all while cheerfully surrendering the Constitutional rights of the folks back home.

Having abandoned the project of transforming Afghanistan into a land of liberty, General Petraeus has 'gone native' and now seeks to impose Taliban-type restrictions on the freedom of speech of Americans. Every success emboldens them: we have surrendered the right to burn the Koran, having earlier surrendered the right to draw funny pictures of Mohammed. In truth, most people don't feel the need to exercise those rights. Soon enough we will lose the right to say a critical word about Mohammed. Will we ever take a stand? And if somewhere we must, why not here? Our soldiers deserve better leadership, from men who remember what it is they are fighting for.


Update: This perplexed and waffling 'pastor' has finally made good on his plan, with the predictable result that innocent people have been murdered by savage mobs. Also predictably, some well-meaning but confused people have reasoned that, because these uncivilized hordes have again made clear their willingness to commit murder, we must surrender our liberties to them. Appeasement does not satisfy aggression, it only feeds and encourages the aggressors. General Petraeus has also, true to form, stomped once again upon the Establishment Clause, exclaiming: "We condemn, in particular, the action of an individual in the United States who recently burned the Holy Quran." (Obama Condemns Koran Burnings, as Afghanistan Protests Spread, by Bryan Hood, April 3, 2011, The Atlantic). It is not the business of the U.S. Government to "condemn" the religious perspectives of its citizens, having no competence to discern between truth and falsity in these matters.

The Verse Idol-Smashing
Covenant of One Baphomet
Malum in Se What Went Wrong?
Extreme Provocation

Madalyn Murray O'Hair

This lady's contentious life and horrific death drew quite a lot of attention. What Madalyn wanted to see in the world was ultimately not compatible with the First Amendment: "In the same article Mother was quoted as saying, 'I want to be able to walk down any street in America and not see a cross or any other sign of religion.'" (William Murray, My Life Without God, p. 91). Where was she coming from?

Optimism End Game
School Prayer Problem of Evil
Atoms and the Void Thomas Jefferson
Workers' Paradise Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll
A Loving God Deity of the Sick
Hobgoblin of Little Minds Old Testament
Adolf Hitler Science and Religion

School prayer is the issue forever associated with Ms. O'Hair. Making the case in favor of voluntary public prayer for Christians suffers from hindrances not experienced by, say, Muslims. Jesus told us where and how to pray:

"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." (Matthew 6:5-6).

On its face, this seems more a discouragement that a command of corporate public prayer. Evangelical interpretation, as with similar instructions to rich individuals to transfer their wealth to the poor, too often revolves around reassurances that He didn't really mean it: "But Jesus' point was not about the proper location to pray; rather, it was about attitude. If the true worshipper found it necessary, he should find the most secluded, private place available to avoid the temptation to show off." (John MacArthur, Jr., Alone With God, p. 45). If His concern was not with "location," then it is odd He spoke of location rather than of other things. In a similar vein, they say the rich young ruler of Luke 18:18 was overly attached to his possessions, which he could have retained, correcting only his attitude, not his balance sheet. Nevertheless, there is plenty of corporate public prayer in the Book of Acts, and it is after all the church's business, not that of outside busy-bodies, to determine the role of voluntary public prayer in Christian life. Jesus did encourage agreement in prayer, "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:19-20). Such agreement is easier to achieve with vocal group prayer. Moreover He taught us to pray, 'Give us this day our daily bread,' not 'me' and 'my.' A better balance on this issue must be struck.

It will not do for outsiders, like the author of a recent Newsweek diatribe against Christianity, to loftily inform Christians they have misconstrued their own faith. Since this author demonstrably knows nothing about it,— he thinks the doctrine of the Trinity says that Jesus is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,— he has no standing to give instruction to anyone, no more than do the courts, prohibited under the First Amendment from telling Christians how to be Christians. Private, inaudible prayer, however, has never been outlawed and in the nature of things cannot be forbidden in school. If prayer is fundamentally private: "Prayer, giving, and fasting are private acts of worship, and therefore should be done privately. We should do them out of love for God, not because we crave the world's praise." (Charles Stanley, Handle With Prayer, p. 38),— then it can not fall within the purview of school administrators. It is reasonable, however, to ask that they set up no constitutionally impermissible road-blocks preventing those students from praying, either personally or corporately, who wish to do so.



Ancient Israel was constituted,— by God,— as a theocracy. Indeed, the only way such a polity can be established is by a direct act of God. Even under this system, the functions of church and state were kept apart under separate heads, Moses and Aaron. How did God respond when pious politicians, acting out of misguided zeal for His glory, took it upon themselves to perform functions not assigned to them? King Uzziah was guilty of one such act of excessive entanglement:

  • "But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the LORD his God, and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense.
  • "And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the LORD, that were valiant men:
  • "And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the LORD God.
  • "Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the LORD, from beside the incense altar.
  • "And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the LORD had smitten him.
  • "And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death, and dwelt in a several house, being a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the LORD: and Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land."
  • (2 Chronicles 26:16-21).

To judge from this example, God does not welcome nor reward encroachments by the state against the church. Some people respond enthusiastically to government-sponsored religious initiatives such as 'days of prayer,' but not because they ever read in the Bible that God responds enthusiastically to such things. Another instance involves a practice that grew up in Judah, evidently similar to the practice at Westminster Cathedral in England, of interring deceased kings beneath the pavement of the temple:

"In their setting of their threshold by my thresholds, and their post by my posts, and the wall between me and them, they have even defiled my holy name by their abominations that they have committed: wherefore I have consumed them in mine anger. Now let them put away their whoredom, and the carcasses of their kings, far from me, and I will dwell in the midst of them for ever." (Ezekiel 43:8-9).

Under the standards of the holiness code, death defiles, and the living God does not appreciate the companionship of deceased kings.

Julius Wellhausen, in his Prolegomena to the History of Israel, one of the silliest books ever written, offers up a triumphant proof that Moses' law is a post-exilic fabrication. He points out that the constitution of ancient Israel requires separation of church and state; the high priest, the titular head of the 'church' or assembly of the faithful, is not a political figure, while at the same time the ruler of the state lacks any dominion over religion:

"What now can be the meaning of this fact,— that he who is at the head of the worship, in this quality alone, and without any political attributes besides, or any share in the government, is at the same time at the head of the nation? What but that civil power has been withdrawn from the nation and is in the hands of foreigners; that Israel has now merely a spiritual and ecclesiastical existence? In the eyes of the Priestly Code Israel in point of fact is not a people, but a church; worldly affairs are far removed from it and are never touched by its laws; its life is spent in religious services. Here we are face to face with the church of the second temple, the Jewish hierocracy, in a form possible only under foreign domination."

(Julius Wellhausen. Prolegomena to the History of Israel (Kindle Locations 2844-2849).

Notice, please, that "only under foreign domination" would it be possible to establish a state in which the secular rulers exercised no control over religion! Not only has he proved Israel's law to be a fable, a late forgery, he has with the same master-stroke proved that the United States does not exist, or if it does, it is under the domination of Mexico. No doubt he would be pleased. It is certainly true that the nineteenth century German autocracy had no conception of any wall of separation, or of religious liberty for that matter, but it is not clear what that tells us about ancient Israel.

Breach the Wall

Efforts to breach the wall of separation protecting the church from state encroachment have been successful at times, most dramatically in the French Revolution. The government took over the churches, lock, stock and barrel, their real property, their revenues, everything, and made the clergy into paid functionaries of the state. And then it got weird. People started dancing, in those ornate cathedrals, now property of the state, in front of a living woman dressed up to personate 'Reason'. . .

Looming Threats

One of the biggest threats to freedom of religion looming on the horizon is Sam Harris, a man who wants the world to know that religious tolerance was all a big mistake:

"I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance -- born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God -- is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss." (Sam Harris, 'The End of Faith,' p. 15).

This unwillingness to tolerate other viewpoints has not always been a part of atheism, but it is a very striking aspect of the 'New Atheism:'

"The sixth distinction of the New Atheism is the attack on toleration. The American experiment of freedom of expression is considered by many of the New Atheists to be simply too dangerous, because it legitimizes the kinds of belief systems that are dangerous, and it does not distinguish between safe and unsafe forms of religion. Thus Sam Harris, more pointedly than the others, says that the time has come to rid ourselves of religious toleration, for it is an experiment that has become too expensive." (R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Atheism Remix, p. 61).

Unfortunately many people today are unable to conceptualize religious toleration except under the premise of indifferentism: that is, no one nowadays bothers to persecute his neighbor, because no one really believes religious claims are true. It should be apparent that this is an Orwellian negation in the place of a definition, because their understanding of religious toleration is simply incompatible with the Christian faith or any other faith. What that means in practice, as it meant to the Bolsheviks, is that we must eliminate Christianity. . .in order to have religious tolerance! See:

  • “STEVEN PINKER: This speaks to the original question of why a lot of these beliefs persist. And I'm always puzzled how, if you take all of this literally as some profess to do, that it really does lead to some — and speaking anachronistically as a post-enlightenment secular humanist — it leads to all kinds of pernicious consequences. Like if the only thing that keeps you from an eternity of torment is accepting Jesus as your savior, well, if you torture someone until they embrace Jesus, you're doing them the biggest favor of their lives. It's better a few hours now than all eternity. And if someone is leading people away from this kind of salvation, well, they're the most evil Typhoid Mary that you can imagine, and exterminating them would be a public health measure because they are luring people into an eternity of torment, and there could be nothing more evil. Again, it's totally anachronistic. The idea of damnation and hell is, by modern standards, a morally pernicious concept. If you take it literally, though, then of course torturing Jews and atheists and heretics and so on, is actually a very responsible public health measure. Nowadays, people both profess to believe in The Book of Revelation, and they also don't think it's a good idea to torture Jews and heretics and atheists.”

  • “ELAINE PAGELS: Maybe they just don't have the power.”

  • “STEVEN PINKER: Even the televangelists who are thundering from their pulpits, probably don't think it's a good idea to torture Jews. And in fact, in public opinion polls, there's a remarkable change through the 20th century, in statements like, all religions are equally valid, and ought to be respected. which today, the majority of Americans agree with. And in the 1930s, needless to say, the majority disagreed with. What I find fascinating is, what kind of compartmentalization allows, on the one hand, people to believe in a literal truth of judgment day, eternal torment, but they no longer, as they once did, follow through the implication, well, we'd better execute heretics and torture nonbelievers. On one hand they've got admirably, a kind of post-enlightenment ecumenical tolerant humanism, torturing people is bad. On the other hand, they claim to hold beliefs that logically imply that torturing heretics would be an excellent thing. It's interesting that the human mind can embrace these contradictions and that fortunately for all of us, the humanistic sentiments trump the, at least, claimed belief in the literal truth of all of this.”

  • “ELAINE PAGELS: Well, that's certainly an important point.”

  • (The Book of Revelation: Prophecy and Politics Edge Master Class 2011, Elaine Pagels, Edge, November 16, 2011).

From whence but Harvard could the reader learn that Christians are all little Peter-the-Hermit bots whose natural activity, unless suppressed, is 'torturing Jews'? Thus when these folks encounter anyone who actually does believe the Book of Revelation, that person is marked as a threat, and we're right back to the mind-set that gave us the Red Terror. 'Because you are intolerant, we will kill you.' Not to say that there haven't been epochs in church history when intolerance was the general practice:

Is torturing disbelievers into accepting the gospel indeed a 'logical' step inevitably embraced by all believing readers of the book of Revelation? How, when the promise is for "whosoever will," not 'whosoever won't but can be made to say through clenched teeth he will?:'

"And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." (Revelation 22:17).

The assumption that an effectual profession of faith can be a coerced lie is not generally consonant with the Bible,

"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:9-10).

Torture does not make people believe with with their hearts but only confess with the lips. Unfortunately, you can just watch the gears working with this: 1.) these people will inevitably torture us into accepting their faith, because this follows 'logically' from their religion; 2.) therefore, just as the Hutus were urged to make the first move, let's wipe them out.

The U.S. Constitution prohibits religious tests for holding office, but the reader who supposes therefore that none is ever applied would be naive. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders refuses to approve an applicant suspected of believing that Christ is the only way to heaven:

“'I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. I really don’t know, probably a couple million. Are you suggesting that all of those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?' demanded Sanders, himself a secular Jew. 'I understand that Christianity is the majority religion. But there are other people who have different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?'” (Christianity Today, In Christ Alone: Bernie Sanders Attacks Wheaton Grad's Stance on Salvation, Kate Shelnutt, June 8, 2017).

The Bible says in so many words that Jesus is the only way to heaven:

"Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." (Acts 4:12).

Whether atheists, who believe that no one goes to heaven, are less tolerant or more tolerant than other people, is unclear by this numerical standard. Certainly it's a free country and Bernie Sanders is entitled to believe that Acts 4:12 is “indefensible, it is hateful and Islamophobic, and an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” (Bernie Sanders quoted in 'Dear political reporters: Does Sanders 'Feel the Bern' over Article 6 and religious tests?', Mark Kellen, June 9, 2017, Get Religion), but the idea that he can disqualify millions of Christians from public office on that basis alone is mind-boggling. Like the atheist terrorists of the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution, they consign Bible-believing Christians to the status of second-class citizens, and feel entirely justified in so doing, in the name of 'tolerance.' Nobody but them ends up having civil rights, and this in their view is the maximally 'tolerant' position, because nobody but them deserves to have any rights at all.

There is a movement underway, in Moscow, Idaho and on social media, to restore to the government the power they had back in the Dark Ages, of defining heresy and punishing those who stray into it:

First Amendment Wall of Separation
Ancient Times Pilgrim's Progress
Fundamental Error Theonomy
No Place Like Home Natural Affection
Gynocracy The Lares
Intermarriage Respect of Persons
Temptation in the Desert Heaven
Exiles Tower of Babel
Scatter the Proud

Essential Church

Lastly, in the looming threats department, did the widespread church closures that occurred during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic represent an assault by government on religious liberty? Some think so:

From Twitter, captured 7/28/23

Let me notice first that the 'brave' stand of megachurch pastor John MacArthur in favor of religious liberty came after he said it did. When the churches were initially closed, under order of the state, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he raised not a peep of protest and dutifully locked the doors. Then, when the churches were allowed to reopen, Grace Community Church reopened. Presumably at some intervening point, he had noticed that collections were down; they were for most churches that went online. Megachurches are a big business. So then, at that late date, he became embroiled in a conflict with the State of California over whether his church would be expected to abide by the mitigation measures they imposed, such as social distancing, wearing face masks, etc.

This is true incidentally of most of the pastors championed by this tendency. They discovered pandemic denialism when they discovered that receipts were down, not before. When James Coates got into trouble with the government of Alberta, and this group frantically explained that the churches in Alberta were locked down, people on Twitter expressed puzzlement, saying 'But I went to church last Sunday and it was open.' Don't assume you know what they mean by 'lockdowns.' What this faction mean by 'lockdowns' is a targeted closure of a church by the health department for failure to follow the rules. Receipts were down, and guess what: COVID denialism proved just the ticket for reversing the trend: "It worked for Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, whose weekly donations increased six-fold after the church's pastor openly mocked health restrictions." (Broadview Magazine, Robin Willey, May 27, 2021, 'Why churches like GraceLife embrace pandemic denial.')

There are pastors who actually did what John MacArthur boastfully, and falsely, claims to have done, namely kept their churches open during the 'Safer-at-Home' shutdowns, for example Rodney Howard-Browne, who was briefly jailed. I was relieved to see when the charges against him were dropped; the health authorities really do have wide discretion in how these measures are implemented, and the goal is public education and compliance, not punishment. Whether the initial lockdowns which did occur in most states were constitutional is open to question, and I would tend to say not. The times, places, and manner in which a church will gather for worship should all, one would expect, fall within its sphere of liberty for ecclesial self-definition. The state does possess emergency powers, but unless there is a river of lava running down the street, these matters should ideally be left up to the church to decide.

The Pentecostal pastors who kept their churches open during the initial lockdowns were operating within the confines of traditional teaching on illness that's been stable over generations. They simply don't agree with the health department when it comes to the causes and circumstances surrounding disease. This was not an ad hoc improvisation invented to keep receipts rolling in.

Freedom of religion, when it comes to preaching and belief, is absolute. You could preach the old-time Aztec religion if you wanted to, that sacrifice of unwilling human victims pleases the gods. But you could not practice it. Freedom of action, even action prompted by religious belief, is not absolute; the Mormons were not allowed, in nineteenth century America, to practice polygamy, which was believed by the majority to be exploitive of women. Murder is illegal for all; the murder statutes are not directed to shutting down an unpopular sect, though the Aztec death cults would certainly be unpopular if they were revived.

The government should be sensitive to situations where it is treading on the firmly and sincerely held religious beliefs of its citizens. While there is a legitimate, compelling government interest in safeguarding the public health, it must be understood that people like the Christian Scientists and the Pentecostals cannot be expected to follow in lockstep, without violating their own conscience.

None of this, however, applies to John MacArthur, who is a very vocal cessationist. His church does not expect miraculous healings and ridicules those who do. His opposition to governmental measures to mitigate COVID-19 was based on made-up numbers, for instance,

"Look, Todd, here's the latest statistic. This came out in court Friday. If you're living in California, here's the chance you're going to die from COVID. This was presented to the court. One chance in 19.1 million. That's the chance you're going to die from COVID in California currently." (John MacArthur on the Todd Starnes show, 9/21/20, also at Protestia).

There are 40 million people living in California. So two of them died? These numbers are absurd. John MacArthur assured his people there was no pandemic:

“The Los Angeles megachurch pastor who has been at war with the city, county and state over COVID-19 health and meeting restrictions told his congregation last Sunday the truth has finally come out: 'There is no pandemic.'
“The congregation of Grace Community Church erupted in applause with these words from their pastor, who has international standing among conservative evangelicals and Calvinists as an author, teacher, preacher and radio show host.” (Baptist News Global, Mark Wingfield, September 3, 2020, "MacArthur Asserts There is No Pandemic.")

This faction insists that the government, in pursuit of some nefarious scheme, tried to make people believe we're all going to die of COVID-19: "COVID-19 began to make international headlines in early 2020, and by mid-March, state and local governments across America were issuing emergency orders restricting large gatherings of people. At the time, health officials were warning that COVID might cause a wave of death and disaster ranking high on the spectrum between the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic and the Black Death in 14th-century Europe." (John MacArthur, "Facing COVID-19 Without Fear," September 21, 2021, Grace to You website). For the life of me I do not understand how people can lie like this. Most of those who contracted the Black Death died of that illness. I read the newspapers, and I've not seen an estimate by the health authorities of the case fatality rate for COVID-19 in the US that got out of single numbers. More fun with numbers:

  • "In California, you have one one hundreth of one percent chance of getting COVID. If you get COVID, this is in the court. This was presented to the court that we were in a week ago. In California, if you live in California, you have one chance in 19.1 million that you're going to die from COVID, if you're over 50. If you're under 50, you have no chance. So what in the world is going on? Once we realize— and we've got to be truthful with people."

  • (John MacArthur and Josh Buice, G3 Podcast, October, 2020, on YouTube.).

The very last thing this arrogant grifter would dream of is being truthful with people. At the time, was your risk of getting COVID-19 in the state of California 0.01%? No. There is nothing specific to Christian doctrine, much less the Bible, in any of this. It's just bad epidemiology,— what they call misinformation, intentional deception of very gullible people, to make up for a shortfall in receipts. John MacArthur should not be made into a hero of religious liberty; he does not even believe in religious liberty. Room must be made for the Pentecostals, however, who have bona fide religious concerns. Another:

John MacArthur: 99.99% Survival Rate

"The reality is that the COVID data just doesn't match the government's COVID narrative. Here in the state of California, we have 40 million people. People that have COVID now are 1/100th of 1%, 0.001. You have  a 99.999 chance to survive COVID. It's just not what they're saying it is." (John MacArthur, 'The Essential Church,' source linked above). It could be these very low numbers started off as someone's citation of the population fatality rate from very early on in the pandemic as cases were just beginning to get off the ground. But then MacArthur cites them as if they were the infection fatality rate or the case fatality rate: if you get COVID, then you have such-and-such a chance of survival. As such these numbers are orders of magnitude off. One can only marvel at the level of gullibility displayed by his congregation, and his willingness to do what it takes to get them to keep coming to church and keep depositing funds in the collection basket.

If religious liberty means that faiths must have freedom to remain true to their calling, who can be against it? But if it means that ill-informed entrepreneurs should feel free to improvise bad epidemiology just as it suits them, and then download phony-baloney numbers about virulence and prevalence from FaceBook and share them with their gullible congregations, it is difficult to work up much enthusiasm. On the other side, it could be pointed out that it is precisely the bad religions which need protection from intrusive control by the majority. Many of the landmark religious liberty cases in the U.S. were brought by the Jehovah's Witnesses, a sub-biblical religion which frequently finds itself in hot water with municipal authorities. But even the Jehovah's Witnesses never claimed your risk of dying of COVID-19 is 1 in 19.1 million. Perhaps there is a cut-off point where bad actors must stand exposed as grifters and sympathy dies on the vine.


When you encounter people who deny the separation of church and state, whether they call themselves Christian Nationalists or something else, you will often find them repeating what Rousas Rushdoony said a half century ago:

  • “First of all, the idea of the separation of church and state never entered into the thinking of the founding fathers at the Constitutional Convention, and it does not appear in the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment simply bars Congress or the federal government from establishing any religion: it left the states free to continue their existing established churches and thereby gave its clear-cut sanction and protection to the establishment of Christianity and of Christian churches by the states and as a state right. Second, the idea of the separation of church and state was a new idea in that age, held only by some atheistic philosophers and first put into practice only with the French Revolution. Prior to the French Revolution, every government in the world held that it was essential to the state to hold a religious faith.”
  • (Rousas Rushdoony, The United States: A Christian Republic, Kindle location 35-44).

This isn't real history. The reason why Roger Williams established freedom of religion in the colony of Rhode Island is not because the atheists of the French Revolution, which hadn't happened yet, commended it. Nor did they actually commend it, and they certainly didn't practice it; when it came down to cases, the atheists of the French Revolution preferred to pack Catholic priests onto boats and then poke holes in the boats. I doubt that it's deliberate falsification, though. There's a similar level of naiveté in this author's analysis of the Mosaic law, for example. He is in general a very ill-informed person.

Rousas Rushdoony was a stranger in a strange land. He never understood our political institutions, and simply assumed the reason European despotism does not hold sway here is because we are in rebellion against God. But where have we heard these ideas before? From atheists. Is that a coincidence? I think not.

There is a type of ad hominem argument which is not abusive, and also not formally valid, but effective rhetorically nonetheless. This is when you say, to someone who says that 'hunting is wrong,' 'but you eat meat.' What deprives this argument of formal validity, what is lacking to it, is any rubric or principle which would establish your critic as himself forming the rule for mankind. It does not prove that hunting is OK, but it does stop the mouth of the critic.

You will hear this form of argumentation from this segment of society, 'you say that slavery is wrong and unbiblical. But even the atheists admit the Bible promotes slavery.' The argumentative force of the 'even the atheists admit' clause is unclear, because these people are almost never arguing with actual atheists, but rather with Christians who dislike their politics. What is lacking for this argument to be formally valid is any principle such that, 'what atheists say about history is generally true.' We have reason to disbelieve this principle, not to be believe it. It's not an admission against interest either, since atheists have no reason to prefer to think the Bible is against slavery, as the Christian abolitionists thought. 'The atheists say it, therefore it is true' is a general principle in search of evidence for its validity.

But recall this ad hominem argument had a rhetorical force, even if lacking formal validity. But here it cannot; being told that 'the atheist up the street admits that the Bible promotes slavery' gets only a puzzled look and the rejoinder, 'why should I care what the atheist up the street says?' But to them, this argument seems wonderfully persuasive. It is true that you might well hear from your Marxist history professor the assertion, 'freedom and democracy come from the Enlightenment and were opposed by Christians.' It is very common for human beings to claim credit for things generally acknowledged to be good; this is why the Russians and the Americans, during the Cold War, both claimed to have invented the telephone, baseball, the automobile, among other things. The atheists prefer to believe that good things like freedom and democracy were brought to us by Deists, who, while they were not atheists, were at least not Christians either.

There were indeed several Deists who played a role in the American Revolution, like Tom Paine and Ethan Allen. And there were Unitarians like Thomas Jefferson. But when we study the history of religious toleration, its adherents and its detractors, there is nobody quite like the Baptists.

When you rummage around in the dark corners of the internet, you find these false attributions all over the place. These young men become alienated from American life because they are first convinced that all the distinctive features of the American polity are imported from Communism, the Jacobins, or some other undesirable group or movement. If you hang around the white supremacists, you will discover that the income tax was first proposed in the Communist Manifesto. The progressive income tax is mentioned in the Communist Manifesto, but it's not a first mention. Their beloved Confederacy had an income tax. They are convinced Communists invented public education, and the reason we have government-funded schools in the U.S. is because the Communists so decreed. Never mind that Aristotle, and after him the Talmud, came out in favor of state funding for education.

And on and on it goes. We don't have freedom of religion because the Communists wanted it,— they didn't, and don't, nor did the Jacobins. Sweeping away these false attributions would clarify the discussion, which could then focus on reality rather than paranoid fears. If they still want to proffer the argument, 'religious toleration was brought to you by the Baptists. Therefore you should hate it,' so be it. But I suspect it will fall a bit flat, at least when presented to a Baptist.

The Smith Act

The Smith Act was an anti-Communist measure that was adopted in 1940 but subsequently repealed. Attempting to overthrow the government of the United States is illegal, and always has been; that was no new provision of the Smith Act. What was new is that even advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. government was made into a criminal offense; the Smith Act "made it a criminal offense to advocate the violent overthrow of the government or to organize or be a member of any group or society devoted to such advocacy." (Britannica Encyclopedia online).

Neoconfederate Douglas Wilson and his group complain endlessly that their get-togethers are "crawling with feds." Is this likely to be true, or is this obsessive concern about "feds" one troubled individual's paranoia put on display? And if it is true, does this constitute religious persecution by the federal government against this group?:

  • “If an event is crawling with feds, it is almost certainly the kind of event that the feds would like to see happen. The kind of event that they would like to see happen is the kind that spirals out of control, and which can be used by them to justify the need for a crackdown. If they called J6 an insurrection, just imagine what they would call an actual insurrection. More than that, imagine what they would be able to justify on the basis of an actual insurrection. Whatever patriots do, it must not accelerate the apparent need for martial law. Why give them what they are yearning for?

  • “At the same time, there must be a showdown, but it needs to be a showdown for which they have no countermeasures.”

  • (Douglas Wilson, Blog & Mabog, January 1, 2024, 11 Resolutions for 2024, Culture War Edition).

Rather confusingly, the writer says "Patriots" when he means something else. The Neoconfederates hate our flag and everything it stands for, which is not what people mean when they say "patriots." The Neoconfederates, like the original crop, are a good deal closer to being traitors than to being American patriots. But surely if the government is harassing them for no reason, they ought to stop. But perhaps it is not for no reason. If, like Joanne Chesimard and her associates, they want to see a change in the government and are not sqeamish about how this happens, the government might have reason to take an interest, if only because they do not like surprises.

Unfortunately, the Smith Act was not found unconstitutional and invalidated when it was appealed to the Supreme Court in Dennis v. United States, when some of the leftists targeted by the act appealed their prison terms, although the law does appear to be unconstitutional on its face. If the Smith Act were still on the books, one suspects the principals of Moscow, Idaho would be in jail. Their publishing arm, Canon Press, has published a book by Stephen Wolfe openly advocating violent revolution, and they not infrequently put out appeals like this one:

Douglas Wilson of "Christ Church," Moscow, Idaho

But fortunately the Smith Act is no longer the law of the land. Advocating anything, up to and including violent revolution, is constitutionally protected free speech, whereas taking action to make it happen would in no sense be free speech, but rather conspiracy to overthrow the government. Under the First Amendment, you can advocate anything, but you cannot do everything. You could advocate the return of the old Aztec religion if you were so inclined, including the human sacrifice of unwilling victims. You must not, however, drive the knife into the victim's still-beating heart; that is murder! and murder is illegal! The authorities can't tell you what to believe, not in the United States, but when it comes to acting upon that belief, they may have a thing or two to say.

Instead of the unlimited right to thought and speech, when it comes to the sphere of practical action, there is no absolute protection for religiously-motivated acts. The Mormons ran into this when they applied for statehood. Their religion, at that time, made a happy eternity depend on a man being married to multiple spouses. But that was illegal under U.S. law. The law was not targeted against Mormons, rather, most of the voters in the U.S. thought polygamy exploited women. If a given law does inconvenience members of a particular sect, the government must have some good reason for it; but the religious sectarians do not have any absolute right to DO what their religion tells them to DO. They have an absolute right to say, 'our religion SAYS that you should DO such as such,' but not to go ahead and do it necessarily. Doctrine and proclamation the government cannot control; practical actions they very well may, especially if they are harmful to others.

So if there is a religion that says you should overthrow the government, whether because of face masks or for whatever other reason, they are free, under the First Amendment, to SAY that you should do so, but not in the end to carry it out. If you so much as purchase a postage stamp with the intent of moving forward a conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government, to jail you will go. This is no violation of the First Amendment, because the First Amendment provides no blanket protection of religiously-motivated ACTIONS, only speech and proclamation.

Wilson and his associates, like James White, scream 'persecution!' when the authorities come round asking questions, rather unfairly I would say. Whenever a school shooing occurs, it often turns out the perpetrator was making threats over the internet for months or years prior, and no one was paying attention. The FBI would be remiss if they did not look into people who are threatening to b*rn all the schools; of those who threaten to do this, some might act upon their threats. Whether the feds have infiltrated this organization with informants I can't say, though I suspect they are very well aware of that outfit. If you are a member of the cult and some friendly fellow comes and offers to sell you a bomb, politely demur. The bomb is not real, and it comes with federal agents hiding behind the shrubbery who will pop up the moment you press the (fake) detonator. And by the way, if as you claim you are a Christian, why do you want to blow people up in the first place?

Pearls Before Swine

One of the things that bothered Roger Williams about the religious establishment that then prevailed in New England,— it was a theocracy,— is the way it manufactured hypocrites.

  • “Oh! that it may please the Father of lights to discover this to all that fear his name! Then would they not sin to save a kingdom, nor run into the lamentable breach of civil peace and order in the world, nor be guilty of forcing thousands to hypocrisy in a state-worship, nor of profaning the holy name of God and Christ by putting their names and ordinances upon unclean and unholy persons, nor of shedding the blood of such heretics, etc., whom Christ would have enjoy longer patience and permission until the harvest, nor of the blood of the Lord Jesus himself in his faithful witnesses of truth, nor lastly, of the blood of so many hundred thousands slaughtered men, women, and children, by such uncivil and unchristian wars and combustions about the Christian faith and religion.”

  • (Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed and Mr. Cotton's Letter Examined and Answered, p. 357).

The people who want to overturn the separation of church and state assume that nothing would please God more than unwilling, coerced service. This is not the case. It is an offense against God to serve Him, even in the manner He himself laid out in scripture, but only in outward show, not with inward conviction:

“'To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?' says the LORD. 'I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats.'

“'When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.'

“'Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.” (Isaiah 1:11-16).

What were these people doing, other than serving God in the way He Himself had instructed them? But they praised Him with their lips, while their hearts were far from Him. They raised blood-stained hands in worship to the Holy One. When you breach the wall of separation between church and state, you multiply offenses, because the government has no power to make people believe what they tell them to believe.

Government-sponsored religion is a religion of outward observance, no more. Many of the political types who jump on the bandwagon of rescinding the separation of church and state, I suspect, know no other type of religion than that of formal, outward observance. They do not perceive a problem. But there is a problem. They are not pleasing God. They readily assume that Jesus wants their coerced service, wants to see unbelievers forced to attend church, own Him as their King, etc. He does not necessarily want them even to be present:

  • “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
  • Matthew 7:6