Quotations about   church and state

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Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian. I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience to neither kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of one only God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Benjamin Waterhouse (26 Jun 1822)
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Added on 15-Jun-22 | Last updated 15-Jun-22
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There can, of course, be no doubt that New York’s program of daily classroom invocation of God’s blessings as prescribed in the Regents’ prayer is a religious activity. […] We think that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that, in this country, it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 424-425 (1962) [majority opinion]
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This case ruled that organized school prayer was unconstitutional. The prayer in question, to be recited by each class before their teacher each day, read: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country."
Added on 2-Jun-22 | Last updated 13-Jun-22
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I agree with you likewise in your wishes to keep religion and government independent of each Other. Were it possible for St. Paul to rise from his grave at the present juncture, he would say to the Clergy who are now so active in settling the political Affairs of the World. “Cease from your political labors your kingdom is not of this World. Read my Epistles. In no part of them will you perceive me aiming to depose a pagan Emperor, or to place a Christian upon a throne. Christianity disdains to receive Support from human Governments. From this, it derives its preeminence over all the religions that ever have, or ever Shall exist in the World. Human Governments may receive Support from Christianity but it must be only from the love of justice, and peace which it is calculated to produce in the minds of men. By promoting these, and all the Other Christian Virtues by your precepts, and example, you will much sooner overthrow errors of all kind, and establish our pure and holy religion in the World, than by aiming to produce by your preaching, or pamphlets any change in the political state of mankind.”

Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) American physician, writer, educator, humanitarian
Letter to Thomas Jefferson (6 Oct 1800)
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Added on 10-May-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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Reasonable minds can disagree about how to apply the Religion Clauses in a given case. But the goal of the Clauses is clear: to carry out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society. By enforcing the Clauses, we have kept religion a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat. At a time when we see around the world the violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government, Americans may count themselves fortunate: Our regard for constitutional boundaries has protected us from similar travails, while allowing private religious exercise to flourish. […] Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?

Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor (b. 1930) American attorney, politician, Supreme Court justice (1981-2006)
McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union, 545 U.S. 844 (2005) (concurring)
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Added on 25-Apr-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” (18 Jun 1779; enacted 16 Jan 1786)
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Added on 28-Mar-22 | Last updated 4-Jul-22
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To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” (18 Jun 1779; enacted 16 Jan 1786)
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Added on 14-Mar-22 | Last updated 4-Jul-22
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When religion and politics travel in the same cart, the riders believe nothing can stand in their way. Their movements become headlong — faster and faster and faster. They put aside all thoughts of obstacles and forget the precipice does not show itself to the man in a blind rush until it’s too late.

Frank Herbert (1920-1986) American writer
Dune, Book 3 “The Prophet” (1965)
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Jessica, quoting a Bene Gesserit proverb.

In Appendix 2, there is reference to another Bene Gesserit teaching: "When religion and politics ride the same cart, when that cart is driven by a living holy man (baraka), nothing can stand in their path."
Added on 10-Mar-22 | Last updated 10-Mar-22
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The garb of religion is the best cloak for power.

William Hazlitt (1778-1830) English writer
“On the Clerical Character,” Conclusion (7 Feb 1818)
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Added on 3-Mar-22 | Last updated 3-Mar-22
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Our secularism is hard-won, the product of centuries of political, intellectual, and sometimes physical courage. Secularism is the institutionalization of doubt, or more precisely of respect for doubt. It is harder to love doubt than to love freedom. So we are grudging about our secularism, and some of us are a little ashamed of it. Maybe it takes Rushdie’s nightmare and Khomeini’s rage to remind us how precious it is, and how fiercely it must be guarded.

Hendrik Hertzberg (b. 1943) American journalist, editor, speech writer, political commentator
“TRB from Washington,” The New Republic (20 Mar 1989)
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Added on 25-Feb-22 | Last updated 25-Feb-22
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Political freedom cannot exist in any land where religion controls the State, and religious freedom cannot exist in any land where the State controls religion.

Sam Ervin
Sam J. Ervin, Jr. (1896-1985) American politician
Preserving the Constitution: The Autobiography of Sam J. Ervin, Jr. (1984)
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Added on 17-Feb-22 | Last updated 17-Feb-22
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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 at this day.

Roger Williams
Roger Williams (1603?-1683) American clergyman and reformer
Mr. Cotton’s Letter, Examined and Answered (1644)
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Writing of the blending of church and state, and resulting religious persecution, in Massachusetts. Likely origin of the "wall of separation between church and state" used by Jefferson.
Added on 29-Dec-21 | Last updated 27-Jun-22
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By force you can make hypocrites — men who will agree with you from the teeth out, and in their hearts hate you. We want no more hypocrites. We have enough in every community. And how are you going to keep from having more? By having the air free, — by wiping from your statute books such miserable and infamous laws as this.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech to the Jury, Trial of C. B. Reynolds for Blasphemy, Morristown, New Jersey (May 1887)
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Added on 22-Sep-21 | Last updated 22-Sep-21
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Lord, there’s danger in this land
You get witch-hunts and wars
When church and state hold hands

Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell (b. 1943) Canadian singer-songwriter and painter [b. Roberta Joan Anderson]
“Tax Free” (1985)
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Added on 13-Sep-21 | Last updated 13-Sep-21
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The liberty of man is not safe in the hands of any church. Wherever the Bible and sword are in partnership, man is a slave.

Ingersoll - liberty of man Bible and sword man is a slave - wist.info quote

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Some Mistakes of Moses, ch. 3 “The Politicians” (1879)
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Added on 18-Aug-21 | Last updated 18-Aug-21
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All laws for the purpose of making man worship God, are born of the same spirit that kindled the fires of the auto da fe, and lovingly built the dungeons of the Inquisition. All laws defining and punishing blasphemy — making it a crime to give your honest ideas about the Bible, or to laugh at the ignorance of the ancient Jews, or to enjoy yourself on the Sabbath, or to give your opinion of Jehovah, were passed by impudent bigots, and should be at once repealed by honest men.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Some Mistakes of Moses, Sec. 3 “The Politicians” (1879)
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Added on 11-Aug-21 | Last updated 11-Aug-21
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Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware of those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware of those who cannot tell God’s will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff’s office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar.

Barbara Brown Taylor (b. 1951) American minister, academic, author
“The Perfect Mirror,” Christian Century (18-25 Mar 1998)
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Added on 30-Jul-21 | Last updated 30-Jul-21
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The church has stood, a rock colossus of bigotry, in the path of ten thousand proposed reforms. Sane efforts to legalize birth control information, the manufacture of proper birth control appliances, appliances for the inhibition of the spread of venereal disease, public instruction in sex hygiene, free clinics for the treatment of venereal disease, the inspection and treatment of prostitutes, controlled prostitution itself, the publication of psychological and physical sex information, aid for unwed mothers –myriad attempts by sane men acting sanely on real problems -— have been fought down by church-frightened legislatures and church-dominated courts.

Philip Wylie (1902-1971) American author
Generation of Vipers (1942)
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Added on 12-Jul-21 | Last updated 12-Jul-21
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Whatever help the nation can justly offer should be generously given to aid the States in supporting common schools; but it would be unjust to our people, and dangerous to our institutions, to apply any portion of the revenues of the nation, or of the States, to the support of sectarian schools. The separation of the Church and the State on everything related to taxation should be absolute.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Letter of Acceptance, Republican nomination for President (10 Jul 1880)
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Added on 20-Nov-20 | Last updated 20-Nov-20
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The divorce between the church and the state ought to be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no church property anywhere in any State or in the nation should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a church tax upon the whole community.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Debate, House Appropriations Committee (22 Jun 1874)
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In the Congressional Record, 2(6):538 (1874).
Added on 2-Oct-20 | Last updated 6-Nov-20
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In the most deeply significant of the legends concerning Jesus, we are told how the devil took him up into a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time; and the devil said unto him: “All this power will I give unto thee, and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it. If thou, therefore, wilt worship me, all shall be thine.” Jesus, as we know, answered and said “Get thee behind me, Satan!” And he really meant it; he would have nothing to do with worldly glory, with “temporal power;” he chose the career of a revolutionary agitator, and died the death of a disturber of the peace. And for two or three centuries his church followed in his footsteps, cherishing his proletarian gospel. The early Christians had “all things in common, except women;” they lived as social outcasts, hiding in deserted catacombs, and being thrown to lions and boiled in oil.

But the devil is a subtle worm; he does not give up at one defeat, for he knows human nature, and the strength of the forces which battle for him. He failed to get Jesus, but he came again, to get Jesus’ church. He came when, through the power of the new revolutionary idea, the Church had won a position of tremendous power in the decaying Roman Empire; and the subtle worm assumed the guise of no less a person than the Emperor himself, suggesting that he should become a convert to the new faith, so that the Church and he might work together for the greater glory of God. The bishops and fathers of the Church, ambitious for their organization, fell for this scheme, and Satan went off laughing to himself. He had got everything he had asked from Jesus three hundred years before; he had got the world’s greatest religion.

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
The Profits of Religion, Book Seven “The Church of the Social Revolution” (1917)
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Added on 27-Aug-20 | Last updated 27-Aug-20
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I told him that, thank God, under our constitution there was no connection between Church and State, and that in my action as President of the U.S. I recognized no distinction of creeds in my appointments to office.

James K. Polk (1795-1849) American lawyer, politician, US President (1845-1849)
Diary entry (14 Oct 1846)
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Added on 2-Jul-20 | Last updated 2-Jul-20
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I endorse it. I think it was correct. Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in god. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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On the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to ban school-led prayer.
Added on 5-May-19 | Last updated 5-May-19
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When Christianity asks the aid of government beyond mere impartial protection, it denies itself. Its laws are divine, and not human. Its essential interests lie beyond the reach and range of human governments. United with government, religion never rises above the merest superstition; united with religion, government never rises above the merest despotism; and all history shows us that the more widely and completely they are separated, the better it is for both.

John Welch (1805-1891) American politician, jurist
Board of Education of Cincinnati v. Minor, Ohio Supreme Court (1872)
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Added on 4-Sep-18 | Last updated 4-Sep-18
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It is just that all worship should be considered as one. We look on the same stars, the sky is common, the same world surrounds us. What difference does it make by what pains each seeks the truth? We cannot attain to so great a secret by one road.

[Aequum est quidquid omnes colunt, unum putari. Eadem spectamus astra, commune coelum est, idem nos munus involvit. Quid interest qua quisque prudentia verum requirat? Uno itinere no potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum.]

Quintus Aurelius Symmachus (c. 345-402) Roman statesman, orator, man of letters
“The Memorial of Symmachus, Prefect of the City” [tr. Romestin, Romestin, Duckworth (1896)]
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Petition on behalf of non-Christian Senators to Emperor Valentinian to restore the Altar of Victory to the Roman Senate.

Alt. trans.: "We gaze up at the same stars; the sky covers us all; the same universe encompasses us. Does it matter what practical system we adopt in our search for the Truth? The heart of so great a mystery cannot be reached by following one road only."
Added on 1-Aug-18 | Last updated 1-Aug-18
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The government’s ability to enforce generally applicable prohibitions of socially harmful conduct, like its ability to carry out other aspects of public policy, “cannot depend on measuring the effects of a governmental action on a religious objector’s spiritual development.” To make an individual’s obligation to obey such a law contingent upon the law’s coincidence with his religious beliefs, except where the State’s interest is “compelling” — permitting him, by virtue of his beliefs, “to become a law unto himself” — contradicts both constitutional tradition and common sense.

Antonin Scalia (1936-2016) US Supreme Court justice
Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, majority opinion (1990)
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Opinion holding that the state could prohibit religious-based peyote use.
Added on 31-Jul-18 | Last updated 31-Jul-18
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For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere. “Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers: in the Pentagon? Give me a break!

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007) American novelist, journalist
A Man Without A Country, ch. 9 (2005)
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The Beatitudes (Matthew 5).
Added on 2-Apr-18 | Last updated 2-Apr-18
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There are three possible ways in which the church can act toward the state: in the first place, as has been said, it can ask the state whether its actions are legitimate and in accordance with its character as state, i.e., it can throw the state back on its responsibilities. Secondly, it can aid the victims of state action. The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community. “Do good to all men.” In both these course of action, the church serves the free state in its free way, and at times when laws are changed the church may in no way withdraw itself from these two tasks.

The third possibility is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself. Such action would be direct political action, and is only possible and required when the church sees the state fail in its function of creating law and order, i.e., when it sees the state unrestrainedly bring about too much or too little law and order.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) German Lutheran pastor, theologian, martyr
“The Church and the Jewish Question” (1933)
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On the need for Christian clergy to actively oppose the Nazi regime's persecution of Jews.
Added on 8-Jan-18 | Last updated 8-Jan-18
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It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or Holy-Rollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
“Concerning Stories Never Written” (Oct 1952)
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Added on 2-Sep-17 | Last updated 2-Sep-17
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Music is no different from opium. Music affects the human mind in a way that makes people think of nothing but music and sensual matters. […] Music is a treason to the country, a treason to our youth, and we should cut out all this music and replace it with something instructive.

Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989) Iranian Shia Muslim religious leader, revolutionary, politician
Ramadan Speech (23 Jul 1979)
Added on 26-Jan-17 | Last updated 26-Jan-17
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It had been boldly predicted by some of the early Christians that the conversion of the world would lead to the establishment of perpetual peace. In looking back, with our present experience, we are driven to the melancholy conclusion that, instead of diminishing the number of wars, ecclesiastical influence as actually and very seriously increased it.

William Lecky (1838-1903) Irish historian
History of European Morals, Vol. 2, ch. 4 (1869)
Added on 18-Jan-17 | Last updated 18-Jan-17
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Every time the Church has gotten into the political game, no matter what the manner of her entry, no matter what her opinion or posing choices in a political situation with regard to an institution, she has been drawn every time into a betrayal, either of revealed truth or of the incarnate love. She has become involved every time in apostasy. … Politics is the Church’s worst problem. It is her constant temptation, the occasion of her greatest disasters, the trap continually set for her by the Prince of this world.

Ellul - politics is the churchs worst problem - wist_info quote

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) French philosopher, law professor, sociologist, theologian
The Presence of the Kingdom [Présence au monde moderne] (1948) [tr. Wyon (1951)]
Added on 8-Aug-16 | Last updated 8-Aug-16
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You can’t divorce religious belief and public service. I’ve never detected any conflict between God’s will and my political duty. If you violate one, you violate the other.

Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) American politician, US President (1977-1981), Nobel laureate [James Earl Carter, Jr.]
Speech, Southern Baptist Brotherhood Commission (16 Jun 1978)
Added on 14-Jun-16 | Last updated 14-Jun-16
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When you say “radical right” today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.

Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) American politician
“Barry Goldwater’s Left Turn,” The Washington Post (28 Jul 1994)
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Added on 14-Jan-16 | Last updated 14-Jan-16
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And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) American politician
Speech, US Senate (16 Sep 1981)
Added on 7-Jan-16 | Last updated 7-Jan-16
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I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?

Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) American politician
Speech, US Senate (16 Sep 1981)
Added on 17-Dec-15 | Last updated 7-Jan-16
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On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) American politician
Speech, US Senate (16 Sep 1981)
Added on 10-Dec-15 | Last updated 7-Jan-16
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The doctor asserted, “Sure religion is a fine influence — got to have it to keep the lower classes in order — fact, it’s the only thing that appeals to a lot of these fellows and makes ’em respect the rights of property. And I guess this theology is O.K.; lot of wise old coots figured it out, and they knew more about it than we do.” He believed in the Christian religion, and never thought about it; he believed in the church, and seldom went near it; he was shocked by Carol’s lack of faith, and wasn’t quite sure what was the nature of the faith that she lacked.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
Main Street (1920)
Added on 29-Sep-15 | Last updated 29-Sep-15
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Christian establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects.

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
Letter to William Bradford, Jr. (1774)
Added on 21-Jul-15 | Last updated 21-Jul-15
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Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Benjamin Rush (1812)
Added on 1-Jul-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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Some very worthy persons, who have not had great advantages for information, have objected against that clause in the constitution which provides, that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. They have been afraid that this clause is unfavorable to religion. But my countrymen, the sole purpose and effect of it is to exclude persecution, and to secure to you the important right of religious liberty. We are almost the only people in the world, who have a full enjoyment of this important right of human nature. In our country every man has a right to worship God in that way which is most agreeable to his conscience. If he be a good and peaceable person he is liable to no penalties or incapacities on account of his religious sentiments; or in other words, he is not subject to persecution. But in other parts of the world, it has been, and still is, far different. Systems of religious error have been adopted, in times of ignorance. It has been the interest of tyrannical kings, popes, and prelates, to maintain these errors. When the clouds of ignorance began to vanish, and the people grew more enlightened, there was no other way to keep them in error, but to prohibit their altering their religious opinions by severe persecuting laws. In this way persecution became general throughout Europe.

Oliver Ellsworth (1745-1807) American lawyer, politician, Founder, Supreme Court chief justice (1796-1800)
Essay (17 Dec 1787)
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Added on 24-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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Now who can hear Christ declare that his kingdom is not of this world, and yet believe that this blending of church and state together can be pleasing to him?

Isaac Backus (1724-1806) American clergyman and historian
An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty (1773)
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A man of abilities and character, of any sect whatever, may be admitted to any office or public trust under the United States. I am a friend to a variety of sects, because they keep one another in order. How many different sects are we composed of throughout the United States? How many different sects will be in congress? We cannot enumerate the sects that may be in congress. And there are so many now in the United States that they will prevent the establishment of any one sect in prejudice to the rest, and will forever oppose all attempts to infringe religious liberty. If such an attempt be made, will not the alarm be sounded throughout America? If congress be as wicked as we are foretold they will, they would not run the risk of exciting the resentment of all, or most of the religious sects in America.

Edmund Randolph (1753-1813) American attorney, politician
Speech, Virginia Ratifying Committee (10 Jun 1788)
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When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Letter to Richard Price (9 Oct 1780)
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Way down deep the American people are afraid of an entangling relationship between formal religions — or whole bodies of religious belief — and government. Apart from constitutional law and religious doctrine, there is a sense that tells us it’s wrong to presume to speak for God or to claim God’s sanction of our particular legislation and His rejection of all other positions. Most of us are offended when we see religion being trivialized by its appearance in political throw-away pamphlets. The American people need no course in philosophy or political science or church history to know that God should not be made into a celestial party chairman.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
“Religious Belief and Public Morality,” John A. O’Brien Lecture, U. of Notre Dame (13 Sep 1984)
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And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
Letter to Edward Livingston (10 Jul 1822)
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We have solved, by fair experiment, the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Speech, Baptist General Meeting, Chesterfield, Virginia (21 Nov 1808)
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Ultimately, therefore, the question “whether or not we admit religious values into our public affairs” is too broad to yield a single answer. “Yes,” we create our public morality through consensus and in this country that consensus reflects to some extent religious values of a great majority of Americans. But “no,” all religiously based values don’t have an a priori place in our public morality. The community must decide if what is being proposed would be better left to private discretion than public policy; whether it restricts freedoms, and if so to what end, to whose benefit; whether it will produce a good or bad result; whether overall it will help the community or merely divide it.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
“Religious Belief and Public Morality,” John A. O’Brien Lecture, U. of Notre Dame (13 Sep 1984)
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We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Dr. Price (8 Apr 1785)
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The arguments start when religious values are used to support positions which would impose on other people restrictions they find unacceptable. Some people do object to Catholic demands for an end to abortion, seeing it as a violation of the separation of church and state. And some others, while they have no compunction about invoking the authority of the Catholic bishops in regard to birth control and abortion, might reject out of hand their teaching on war and peace and social policy.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
“Religious Belief and Public Morality,” John A. O’Brien Lecture, U. of Notre Dame (13 Sep 1984)
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The American states have gone far in assisting the progress of truth; but they have stopped short of perfection. They ought to have given every honest citizen an equal right to enjoy his religion and an equal title to all civil emoluments, without obliging him to tell his religion. Every interference of the civil power in regulating opinion, is an impious attempt to take the business of the Deity out of his own hands; and every preference given to any religious denomination, is so far slavery and bigotry.

Noah Webster, Jr. (1758-1843) American lexicographer and author
Sketches of American Policy (1785)
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God has appointed two kinds of government in the world, which are distinct in their nature, and ought never to be confounded together; one of which is called civil, the other ecclesiastical government.

Isaac Backus (1724-1806) American clergyman and historian
An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty (1773)
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Our public morality, then — the moral standards we maintain for everyone, not just the ones we insist on in our private lives — depends on a consensus view of right and wrong. The values derived from religious belief will not — and should not — be accepted as part of the public morality unless they are shared by the pluralistic community at large, by consensus. That values happen to be religious values does not deny them acceptability as a part of this consensus. But it does not require their acceptability, either.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
“Religious Belief and Public Morality,” John A. O’Brien Lecture, U. of Notre Dame (13 Sep 1984)
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If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.

George Washington (1732-1799) American military leader, Founding Father, US President (1789-1797)
Letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia (May 1789)
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Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American political philosopher and writer
The Rights of Man (1791)
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In addition to all the weaknesses, dilemmas and temptations that impede every pilgrim’s progress, the Catholic who holds political office in a pluralistic democracy — who is elected to serve Jews and Muslims, atheists and Protestants, as well as Catholics — bears special responsibility. He or she undertakes to help create conditions under which all can live with a maximum of dignity and with a reasonable degree of freedom; where everyone who chooses may hold beliefs different from specifically Catholic ones — sometimes contradictory to them; where the laws protect people’s right to divorce, to use birth control and even to choose abortion. In fact, Catholic public officials take an oath to preserve the Constitution that guarantees this freedom. And they do so gladly. Not because they love what others do with their freedom, but because they realize that in guaranteeing freedom for all, they guarantee our right to be Catholics: our right to pray, to use the sacraments, to refuse birth control devices, to reject abortion, not to divorce and remarry if we believe it to be wrong.

Mario Cuomo (1932-2015) American politician
“Religious Belief and Public Morality,” John A. O’Brien Lecture, U. of Notre Dame (13 Sep 1984)
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