Tearing Down Jefferson’s Wall: Palin on the Separation of Church and State

I was going to write a post debunking Palin’s response to Katie Couric’s question about the separation of Church and State, but my friend Steve Benen, who knows a lot more about this than I do, beat me to it.

Make sure to read Steve’s post here, as well as this interesting article by his former colleague from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Rob Boston, on Jefferson’s famous letter to the Danbury Baptists, from 1802.

In brief: While Biden takes a firm stand in support of the separation of Church and State, noting that the Founders “took religion out of government” (but not out “the public square”), Palin waffles, declaring that Jefferson’s original intent was to ensure that “government did not mandate a religion on people” and, in populist mode, talking up “the wisdom of the people,” and defending the people’s “right” to “express their own religious view” in public.

What Palin offers here, in an awkward way, is a limited (and one-directional) understanding of one of the core principles of American constitutionalism. As Boston explains, Jefferson held that religious liberty, or freedom of conscience — given that “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God” — requires “a wall of separation between Church & State.” In other words, just as there mustn’t be a state-sponsored religion, so too mustn’t there be a religion-sponsored state.

Evidently, Palin just doesn’t get it. But, then, she’s a theocrat. Jefferson would not be amused.