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Home » Resources » Recommended Reading » Quotations

A Collection of Quotations on Church-State Subjects

"An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh."
--Roger Williams (founder of First Baptist Church in America), The Bloody Tenet of Persecution (1640).

“When they [the Church] 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 it is this day. And that therefore if He will ever please to restore His garden and Paradise again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world, and all that be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the wilderness of the World."
--Roger Williams, "Mr. Cotton's Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered," The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, Vol. 1, 108 (1644).

"Religious matters are to be separated from the jurisdiction of the state, not because they are beneath the interests of the state but, quite to the contrary, because they are too high and holy and thus are beyond the competence of the state."
--Isaac Backus, colonial Baptist from New England, An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty (1773).

"The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. ... Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians."
--John Leland, "A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia," as cited in Forrest Church, The Separation of Church and State, 92 (2004).

"Experience...has informed us that the fondness of magistrates to foster Christianity has done it more harm than all the persecutions ever did."
--John Leland, [18th cent. Baptist leader in Virginia] quoted in Gaustad, A Disestablished Society: Origins of the First Amendment, vol. 11, A Journal of Church and State (1969), 414.

"These [religious] establishments metamorphose the church into a creature, and religion into a principle of state, which has a natural tendency to make men conclude that Bible religion is nothing but a trick of state."
-- John Leland, [18th cent. Baptist leader in Virginia]Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law.

"Truth disdains the aid of law for its defense--it will stand upon its own merits."
--John Leland, Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law.

"I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other."
--John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, 1689.

"Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but 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, The Rights of Man, 1791.

The constitutional provision to ban a religious test for public office is "a provision the world would expect from you in the establishment of a System founded on Republican principles in an age so liberal and enlightened as the present."
--Charles Pinckney, delegate to the Constitutional Convention from South Carolina, quoted in Stokes and Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States, 485.

"The rights of conscience are a peculiar delicacy and will little bear the gentlest touch of government's hand."
--Daniel Carroll, delegate from Maryland to the First Congress, 1 ANNALS OF CONG. 757-58 J. Gales ed., 1834 (August 15, 1789).

"[I]f I could now 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. ...[E]very man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience."
--George Washington, letter to the United Baptist Church's General Committee, May, 1789, cited in Forest Church, ed., The Separation of Church and State, 106.

“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, Letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785.

“…the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” ---Treaty of Tripoli, 1797, ratified and signed by John Adams, cited in The Works of John Adams (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1856), volume IX, 636.

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence the 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 & State.”
--Thomas Jefferson, 1802 letter to Danbury Connecticut Baptist Association.

[T]o compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”
--Thomas Jefferson, A bill for the Establishing of Religious Freedom.

“Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the General Government.”
--President Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Rev. Samuel Miller, January 23, 1808.

“The Religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate…It is the duty of everyman to render to the Creator such homage…as he believes to be acceptable to him. The duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society…We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no Man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.”
--James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, (1785).

“While we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.”
--James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, (1785).

“Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world…”
--James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, (1785).

“Whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church and the State.”
--James Madison, letter to Robert Walsh, 1819 in Gaillard Hunt, ed. The Writings of James Madison, v. VIII, 431-432.

“Religion flourishes in greater purity without than with the aid of government.”
--President James Madison, Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822.

“When 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 obliged to call for the help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”
--Benjamin Franklin, cited in Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States (New York: Harper, 1950), vol. I, 298.

“Civil liberty can be established on no foundation of human reason which will not at the same time demonstrate the right to religious freedom.”
--President John Quincy Adams, Letter to Richard Anderson, May 27, 1823.

“It is my firm belief that there should be separation of church and state as we understand it in the United States—that is, that both church and state should be free to operate, without interference from each other in their respective areas of jurisdiction. We live in a liberal, democratic society which embraces wide varieties of belief and disbelief. There is no doubt in my mind that the pluralism which has developed under our Constitution, providing as it does a framework within which diverse opinions can exist side by side and by their interaction enrich the whole, is the most ideal system yet devised by man. I cannot conceive of a set of circumstances which would lead me to a different conclusion.”
--John F. Kennedy, in a letter to Glenn L. Archer, February 23, 1959.

“The government ought to stay out of the prayer business.”
--President Jimmy Carter, press conference, Washington, D.C., 1979.

“All religions united with government are more or less inimical to liberty. All, separated from government, are compatible with liberty.”
--Henry Clay, address, U.S. House of Representatives, March 24, 1818.

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”
--Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Harper & Row, 1963).

“It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”
--Billy Graham, Parade (February 1, 1981).

“The very purpose of the Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”
--West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 638 (1943).

“Church and state should be separate. The states owe to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends…The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal.”
--1963 Southern Baptist Convention Annual 269-281, Article XVII “Religious Liberty.”

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. … Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man.”
--Thomas Jefferson, from “Notes on Virginiaz

“It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. “
--Thomas Jefferson, from “Notes on Virginia”

“Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons.”
--Thomas Jefferson, from “Notes on Virginia”

“Is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature.”
--Thomas Jefferson, from “Notes on Virginia”

“What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites, to support roguery and error all over the earth. “
--Thomas Jefferson, from “Notes on Virginia”

“Believing religious liberty to be not only an inalienable human right, but indispensable to human welfare…Baptists condemn every form of compulsion in religion or restraint of the free consideration of the claims of religion. “
--Statement approved by four Baptist denominations, 1939

“Those who accept freedom of religion as a right are obligated by this acceptance to take the maintenance of freedom of religion as a duty. “
--Joseph L. Blau, Cornerstones of Religious Freedom in America, 1949.

Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and overzealous piety.
--Edmund Burke

“Religion flourishes best when it is free of political alliances.”
--Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1962.

“The magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force and compel men to his or that form of religion or doctrine. “
--John Smyth, first English Baptist, confession of faith, 1611

“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other. “
--George Mason, Virginia Bill of Rights, 1776

“Torrents of blood have been spilt in the world in vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish religious discord, by proscribing all differences in religious opinions. “
--James Madison

“We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. “
--Jonathan Swift

“As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged . . . we must all be most aware of change in the air . . . lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”
--Justice William O. Douglas: