Why Democracies Require a
Separation of CHURCH and State

by Dr. Kenneth L. Hacker, Ph.D.

February 2, 1998

    For those who read American history carefully, there is a concern that is found in the First Amendment and its contexts of creation and interpretation, for maintaining both religions that are free from governmental interference and government that is free from religious interference.  Too often, this separation of "church" and state is confused with being anti-religion.  The intention of the founders and of those who support their efforts in this matter, was to maintain religious liberty and also to have a political democracy free from the terrible events that occur when religions begin taking over political matters as in the case of theocracies.

    There is nothing whatsover anti-religion about supporting the "wall of separation" between church and state.  Such a wall maintains the freedom of religions to practive their dogmas, rituals, recruiting, etc. as they see fit.  It also protects government from the overbearing influence of any single religion or coalition of religions, thus keeping it safe to represent the welfare of all American citizens, regardless of what religion, if any, they subscribe to.

    Plano & Greenberg (1967, p. 73) sum up the separatin of religion and government in the United States in the following ways:

        a.  It is a basic principle of American government that church and state not mingle.
        b.  The Supreme Court argues that the state must neither advance nor retard religion.
        c.  The state must not use funds to favor one church over others.
        d.  Public institutions should  not be embroiled in sectarian controversies.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison knew the ramifications of not separating church and state.  They can be found in the history of the 17th century colonies and in the Middle Ages of  Europe.


Plano, Jack, C., & Greenberg, Milton. (1967).  The American Political Dictionary.  New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Dr. Hacker is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003 and can best reached by e-mail.