Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association is the most famous document in the history of church-state separation, and for good reason. It was in this letter that the new president affirmed his strong support for the concept, coining the phrase “wall of separation between Church and State” to clarify the intent of the First Amendment’s establishment clause.
Many people assume that Jefferson was scolding the Baptists for disregarding separation. In fact, the opposite is true: Concerned that the First Amendment was too vague on the question, the Danbury Baptists had strongly urged Jefferson to clarify and enforce separation. Religion is “a matter between God and individuals,” they said, and government should never enforce a particular religious vision or message on its people.
It’s a sentiment Jefferson himself could have penned, not to mention most secular Americans today.
Even as many prominent Baptists have become the worst violators of church-state separation today, other Baptists work tirelessly alongside secularists to preserve the wall of separation. One of the strongest such voices is the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC). Foundation Beyond Belief is proud to feature BJC as our Challenge the Gap beneficiary for the second quarter of 2014.
Many atheists and humanists feel that the best way to oppose harmful expressions of religion is by supporting and encouraging the more positive expressions. Challenge the Gap is an innovative program that finds and features progressive, non-proselytizing religious charities that share common values with humanists and atheists. Since 2011, the nontheistic members of FBB have raised nearly $100,000 for religious charities that meet these requirements.
“The Baptist Joint Committee is delighted to partner with Foundation Beyond Belief,” said Brent Walker, executive director of BJC. “As Baptist Christians, we believe in religious liberty as a gift from God and the separation of church and state as a means of protecting it. We also affirm the rights of secular conscience and freedom from state-sponsored religion. Although our presuppositions and motivations may differ, we often find many areas of common ground on which to stand and work. Just as people of faith and the scions of the Enlightenment joined forces to pass the First Amendment more than two centuries ago, believers and non-believers alike can work together today to help protect it, for all of us.”
Of course the nonreligious see religious liberty and freedom of conscience not as gifts from God but as natural rights. But that difference between us matters much less than the shared value of church-state separation.
There is more common ground between religious and nonreligious people than either side tends to realize. When our values and interests overlap, as they strongly do in this case, it stands to reason that we should reach out in common cause and support each other. That’s why FBB is proud to support the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty as our 11th Challenge the Gap partner.