Quotes by Presidents of the United States
which demonstrate that Separation of Church and State is a significant American constitutional principle.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The 14th Amendment made this applicable to all government, not just Congress. In 1879 the Supreme Court said that Thomas Jefferson�s explanation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment gave the most authoritative definition of its meaning:
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State." (Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, Conn., 1802.)
... no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
(Article VI, Section 3, The Constitution of the United States.)
President George Washington:
"The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens."
(Letter to America�s first synagogue, Touro Synagogue, Newport, R.I., August, 1790)
President John Adams (commenting on blasphemy laws):
"I think such laws a great embarrassment, great obstructions to the improvement of the human mind. Books that cannot bear examination, certainly ought not to be established as divine inspiration by penal laws."
(Letter to Thomas Jefferson, Jan. 23, 1825)
President Thomas Jefferson:
"[E]veryone must act according to the dictates of his own reason, and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the U.S. and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents."
(Letter to the Rev. Samuel Miller, January 23, 1808)
President James Madison:
"[I]t may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to usurpation on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded agst. by an entire abstinence of the Gov't from interference in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect agst. trespasses on its legal rights by others."
(Letter to Rev. Adams, ca. 1832.)
President James Madison:
"There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it, would be a most flagrant usurpation. I can appeal to my uniform conduct on this subject, that I have warmly supported religious freedom."
(Journal excerpt, June 12, 1788)
President John Quincy Adams:
"Civil liberty can be established on no foundation of human reason which will not at the same time demonstrate the right to religious freedom."
(Letter to Richard Anderson May 27, 1823.)
President Andrew Jackson (explaining why he declined to call for official days of prayer and fasting):
"I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government."
(Letter to the Synod of the Reformed Church of North America, June 12, 1832)
President John Tyler:
"The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent -- that of total separation of Church and State."
(Letter ca. 1843.)
President James K. Polk:
"Thank God, under our Constitution there was no connection between Church and State."
(Diary entry, Oct. 14, 1846)
President Millard Fillmore:
"I am tolerant of all creeds. Yet if any sect suffered itself to be used for political objects I would meet it by political opposition. In my view church and state should be separate, not only in form, but fact. Religion and politics should not be mingled."
(Address during 1856 presidential election)
President Ulysses S. Grant:
"Encourage free schools, and resolve that not one dollar of money shall be appropriated to the support of any sectarian school. Resolve that neither the state nor nation shall support institutions of learning other than those sufficient to afford every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan, or atheistical dogmas. Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private schools, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate."
(Speech to veterans of the Army of Tennessee, Sept. 30, 1875.)
President Rutherford B. Hayes:
We all agree that neither the Government nor political parties ought to interfere with religious sects. It is equally true that religious sects ought not to interfere with the Government or with political parties. We believe that the cause of good government and the cause of religion suffer by all such interference.
(Statement 1875 when Governor of Ohio.)
President James A. Garfield:
"Whatever help the nation can justly afford 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 in everything relating to taxation should be absolute."
(Letter accepting presidential nomination, July 12, 1880)
President Theodore Roosevelt:
"I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be nonsectarian and no public moneys appropriated for sectarian schools."
(Speech, Oct. 12, 1915)
President John F. Kennedy:
"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president, should he be Catholic, how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all."
(Speech to Greater Houston Ministerial Association, Sept. 12, 1960)
President Lyndon B. Johnson:
"I believe in the American tradition of separation of church and state which is expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. By my office � and by personal conviction � I am sworn to uphold that tradition."
(Interview with Baptist Standard, October 1964)
President Jimmy Carter:
"I believe in the separation of church and state and would not use my authority to violate this principle in any way."
(Letter to Jack V. Harwell, August 11, 1977)
President Ronald Reagan:
"Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief."
(Speech to Temple Hillel and Community Leaders in Valley Stream, N.Y., October 26, 1984)
President James Garfield:
"The divorce between Church and 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 (school), to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt:
"The public schools shall be free from sectarian influences and, above all, free from any attitude of hostility to the adherents of any particular creed."
President Gerald Ford:
"I believe that prayer in public schools should be voluntary. It is difficult for me to see how religious exercises can be a requirement in public schools, given our Constitutional requirement of separation of church and state."
President George W. Bush 2000:
"We should not have teacher-led prayers in public schools, and school officials should never favor one religion over another, or favor religion over no religion"
Defending your religious liberty since 1947. Help us educate people to the truth of history.
Nashville Chapter Americans United for Separation of Church and State, PO Box 210005, Nashville TN 37221
December 4, 2011