I'd like to respond to some of the comments made in the guest commentary of Mar. 24 by Homer "Tex" Beauchamp, "...Thus building a wall of separation ..."
No metaphor in American history has been misused and distorted more than Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state." First, it should be emphasized that the Bill of Rights, which included the First Amendment, were written as limitations on the federal government. Next, the "high and impregnable" wall is more appropriately the wall that Justice Hugo Black built in 1947. Jefferson's wall expressly separated institutions of church and state, the court's wall separates religion and all civil government by incorporating First Amendment, non-establishment provisions into the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. Black's wall separates religion and civil government at all levels: federal, state, and local.
The differences between the two "walls" are illustrated by practices and policies implemented by Jefferson during his term in office. He pursued policies incompatible with the "high and impregnable" wall erroneously attributed to him, such as endorsing use of federal funds to build churches and to support Christian missionaries
The First Amendment was added to the Constitution to protect religion and religious institutions from corrupting interference by federal government and not to protect government from influence or overreaching by religion. However, the "wall" is all too often now used to silence churches and limit its reach into public life, but it is rarely used to restrain the state's meddling in and restraint of churches. The Founding Fathers would have been alarmed at this distortion; they viewed religion and God as indispensable for order and prosperity.
As Justice William Renquist stated, "...the wall is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned."
Gerald J. Boyum