Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation between Church and State

By Daniel L. Dreisbach | Go to book overview

5

Early References to a “Wall
of Separation”
Prefiguring the Jeffersonian Metaphor

[There are those who hold] that Bishops may not meddle with the
affairs of the commonwealth because they are governors of an-
other corporation, which is the Church, nor Kings, with making
laws for the Church because they have government not of this cor-
poration, but of another divided from it, the Commonwealth, and
the walls of separation between these two must forever be upheld.

—Richard Hooker (circa 1590s)1

[T]he faithful labors of many witnesses of Jesus Christ, extant to
the world, abundantly proving 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, and made His gar-
den a wilderness, as at this day.

—Roger Williams (1644)2

Build an impenetrable wall of separation between things sacred
and civil.

—James Burgh (1767)3

Although Thomas Jefferson is often credited with coining the “wall of separation” metaphor, he was not the first to use it in a churchstate context. The image of a wall or similar barrier separating the realms of the church and the civil government can be found in Western political and theological literature centuries before Jefferson penned the

-71-

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