The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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Rev. John Leland on the Ten Commandments, Judge Moore and other related things

Who was the Rev. John Leland?

John Leland (1754-1841), was a Baptist preacher whose life involved writing and preaching about the gospel of Jesus Christ and about the proper relationship between religion and government. In the latter passion, Leland agreed with the position of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom he knew personally. Leland spent approximately 14 years in Virginia from 1776 to approximately 1790-91. He was a major leader of the Baptists in Virginia. He helped Madison by rounding up support for the defeat of the assessment bill in Virginia in 1784-86, threw his support behind ratifying the new constitution after being assured that Madison did favor a Bill of Rights being added, threw his support behind getting Madison elected over Patrick Henry's hand-picked man, James Monroe, to the House of Representatives of the First Federal Congress. He returned to his home state of Massachusetts. in 1790-91, where he remained as an active minister and champion of separation of church and state and disestablishment till his death in 1841. He wrote articles against establishment while in Massachusetts and testified before the Massachusetts legislature on at least one occasion. He and Issac Backus were probably the most famous of those who fought for religious Freedom in New England.

Research by Jim Allison

A warning from Rev. Leland [emphasis added]

. . . Disdain mean suspicion, but cherish manly jealousy; be always jealous of your liberty, your rights. Nip the first bud of intrusion on your constitution. Be not devoted to men; let measures be your object, and estimate men according to the measures they pursue. Never promote men who seek after a state-established religion; it is spiritual tyranny--the worst of despotism. It is turnpiking the way to heaven by human law, in order to establish ministerial gates to collect toll. It converts religion into a principle of state policy, and the gospel into merchandise. Heaven forbids the bans of marriage between church and state; their embraces therefore, must be unlawful. Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion, in choosing representatives. It is electioneering. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes. If pure religion is the criterion to denominate candidates, those who make a noise about it must be rejected; for their wrangle about it, proves that they are void of it. Let honesty, talents and quick despatch, characterise the men of your choice. Such men will have a sympathy with their constituents, and will be willing to come to the light, that their deeds may be examined. . . .


Excerpt from "July 4th Oration by John Leland, July 5, 1802". The Writings of John Leland, Edited by L.F. Greene, Arno Press & The New York Times New York (1969) pp.260-270) Originally published as: The Writings Of The Late Elder John Leland Including Some Events In His Life, Written By Himself, With Additional Sketches &c. By Miss L.F. Greene, Lanesboro, Mass. Printed By G.W. Wood, 29 Gold Street, New York 1845.

THE principle, that civil rulers have nothing to do with religion in their official capacities, is as much interwoven in the Baptist plan, as Phydias's name was in the shield. The legitimate powers- of government extend only to punish men for working ill to their neighbors, and no way affect the rights of conscience. The nation of Israel received their civil and religious laws from Jehovah, which were binding on them, and no other; and with the extirpation of that nation, were abolished. For a Christian commonwealth to be established upon the same claim, is very presumptuous, without they have the same charter from Heaven. Because the nation of Israel had a divine grant of the land of Canaan, and orders to enslave the heathen, some suppose Christians have an equal right to take away the land of the Indians, and make slaves of the negroes. Wretched religion, that pleads for cruelty and injustice. In this point of view, the Pope offered England to the king of Spain, provided he would conquer it; after England became Protestant, and in the same view of things, on May 4, 1493, the year after America was discovered, he proposed to give away the heathen lands to his Christian subjects. If Christian nations, were nations of Christians, these things would not be so: The very tendency of religious establishments by human law, is to make some hypocrites, and the rest fools; they are calculated to destroy those very virtues that religion is designed to build up ; to encourage fraud and violence over the earth. It is error alone, that stands in need of government to support it ; truth can and will do better without : so ignorance calls in anger in a debate, good sense scorns it. Religion, in its purest ages,,made .its way in the world, not only without the aid of the law, but against all the laws of haughty monarchs, and all the maxims of the schools. The pretended friendship of legal protection, and learned assistance, proves often in the end like the friendship of Joab to Amass.


"The Virginia Chronicle", by John Leland, 1790. The Writings of John Leland, Edited by L.F. Greene, Arno Press & The New York Times N Y (1969) pp.91-124) Originally published as: The Writings Of The Late Elder John Leland Including Some Events In His Life, Written By Himself, With Additional Sketches &c. By Miss L.F. Greene, Lanesboro, Mass. New York Printed By G.W. Wood, 29 Gold Street, 1845.

Q. Did the Almighty ever give a code of political laws to any nation? or, are nations left to act at discretion in establishing forms of government and codes of laws? A. The Almighty did certainly give the nation of Israel a complete code of laws on Sinai, and in the wilderness, for their rule of conduct in religious, civil and military life. Q. Were those laws obligatory on other nations? A. Laws, that are in themselves just, are binding on all men, but the particular form of many of those laws was peculiar to that nation. The transgression of many of those precepts was criminal in that nation, which the Gentiles were never accused of by their great apostle, Paul. Q. Has the political part of that constitution [Mosaic constitution] ever been abused by Gentile legislatures? A. Abundantly so, among Gentile nations that have become Christian; for by bringing Christian states upon the same footing with the commonwealth of Israel, they have supposed that Christian nations have a just right to dispossess the heathen of their lands and make slaves of their persons, as Israel served the Canaanites and Jebusites: for no better claim than this had the European nation to make a seizure of America. Nor is this all: civil rulers, in Christian countries, have taken the liberty of adopting such precepts of the Mosaic constitution as suited them, and punished those who would not submit, when, at the same time, they have left unnoticed a great number of the precepts of Moses which were equally obligatory. Q. Has the eccleriastical part of the Mosaic constitution ever been abused as well as the political part? A. Yes, and that to a great degree. The church of Israel took in the whole nation, and none but that nation: whereas, Christ's church takes no whole nation, but those who fear God and work righteousness in every nation. But almost all Christian nations and states, since the reign of Constantine, have sought to establish national churches: in order to effect which, they have brought in all the natural .reed of the professors into the pales of the church, making no difference between the precious and the vile; and from this foundation they have appealed to the laws of state, instead of the laws of Christ, to direct their mode of discipline. What a scandal it is to the Christian name to see church discipline executed in a court-house, before the judges of the police to see censures given at the whipping-post, and excommunications at the gallows;(1) and for smaller breaches, to be admonished by a sheriffs seizing and selling cows, etc. . . .


"The Yankee Spy", by Jack Nips ( John Leland), 1794. The Writings of John Leland, Edited by L.F. Greene, Arno Press & The New York Times N Y (1969) pp.215-229) Originally published as: The Writings Of The Late Elder John Leland Including Some Events In His Life, Written By Himself, With Additional Sketches &c. By Miss L.F. Greene, Lanesboro, Mass. New York. Printed By G.W. Wood, 29 Gold Street, 1845.

In the United States it is generally believed that the laws given by Moses were not binding on any nation but the Israelites. No other nation has ever adopted them. That kings are born with a divine right to rule, is not believed among us. Our government is formed on another principle. Our institutions recognise the sovereignty of the people. That all power is vested in them, and by them given to all the agents, who are accountable servants. If this is correct, it follows that no chief magistrate, legislative body, or judicial board, have, or can possess any power, which is not found in small constituent parts among the units that compose the whole body ; for how can the creature possess more power than the Creator ? The result is, that if one individual has the power to impose an oath on another, in a small moiety, then, by adding all the little grains together, officers can be created to coerce by oath. But where is the individual who possesses the power or right to compel his neighbor to tell what he does not choose to reveal, by a threat of the vengeance of God if he diminishes or adds to the truth ?


"Oaths", by John Leland Published in 1830. The Writings of John Leland, Edited by L.F. Greene, Arno Press & The New York Times N Y (1969) pp 597-599) Originally published as: The Writings Of The Late Elder John Leland Including Some Events In His Life, Written By Himself, With Additional Sketches &c. By Miss L.F. Greene, Lanesboro, Mass. New York Printed By G.W. Wood, 29 Gold Street, 1845.

The Law of Moses contains three parts. First. The ten commandments engraven on stone. Second. The sixty precepts written in a book and sprinkled with blood, designed for the government of their commonwealth. Third. Their religious usages, containing bleeding victims, smoking altars, divers washings, and carnal ordinances; to be continued until what they prefigured should take place. Sometimes the whole of Moses' writings, without distinction, are called Moses, or the law. When it first took rise, to call the ten commandments moral, distinct from the other parts of the law, or why it is continued, I cannot tell. The word moral is not in the Bible, but it is a word of general use, in these days, and of a variety of meanings. In the religious department, it is used by many divines, to express the eternal rule of right which proceed from the relation that exists between God and men, and between man and man, and that will continue as long as the perfections of God and the faculties of men exist, without change, amendment or repeal. In this point of light I receive and use the word in my research. Why men should pay more deference to the decalogue than to the other parts of the law, I cannot ascertain. True, the ten commandments were spoken aloud by God, amidst awful emblems of his power ; so also the sixty precepts were written in a book, by a holy man of God, inspired by the Holy Ghost, and sprinkled with blood. When our Lord was asked by a lawyer, which was the first and great commandment, our Lord did not answer him from any of the ten commandments, but from Deut. VI., 6, and Levit. XIX., 18, where Moses was not treating of the decalogue. 4. None of the laws of Moses were written and engraven in stones but the ten commandments; and yet it is expressly said, (2 Cor., iii., 7, 11, 13,) that the ministration of what was there written, is done away and abolished, which will never be the case with moral law.


"Sabbath" Examined by John Leland, August 1837 & June 1838. The Writings of John Leland, Edited by L.F. Greene, Arno Press & The New York Times N Y (1969) pp.688-696. Originally published as: The Writings Of The Late Elder John Leland Including Some Events In His Life, Written By Himself, With Additional Sketches &c. By Miss L.F. Greene, Lanesboro, Mass. New York Printed By G.W. Wood, 29 Gold Street, 1845.

If Alabama's Chief Justice Moore weren't a judicial demagogue and if he really wanted to "do it right," he wouldn't have done it the way he did. He'd have talked it over with his colleagues, he'd have done some research, and he'd have solicited input from legal scholars and historians -- and there wouldn't be any "Ten Commandments controversy" whatever. Moore would have had his Moses, and more.... But, in my opinion, politicians like Moore aren't as much about Moses and the great Judeo-Christian tradition as they are about using Moses and the great Judeo-Christian tradition to create controversy and get votes.



BurtLaw's Court Gazing II, Burton Randall Hanson. BurtLaw.Com - LawAndEverythingElse.Com - © 2001 [Scroll down to: The "Ten Commandments movement" revisited.]

The uses of God as a "ceremonial and patriotic" implement go forward steadily in more obtrusive and questionable forms. The insistent demand to have creches and menorahs in public sites continues to present tough questions leading to the varieties of intricate and disputed answers mentioned in Chapter I. The legal issues are tricky enough to promise a continued supply of test cases. To oversimplify a lot, the hardest cases—where private groups want to put their creches or menorahs in the public park or on City Hall plaza—pit the First Amendment free-speech rights of those groups against the claim of the objectors that this placement of the symbols indicates government endorsement of the religion symbolized. Without questioning the difficulty of these cases, it is fair to conjure with the question why they keep happening. The answer lies, I think, in the very nature of hostile and competitive patriotism out of which one might wish that God could have been kept. The creche on the public square—to "put Christ back into Christmas," as its sponsors say—plants the religious flag of the angry nativists winning theirs back from the alien, infidel intruders. (Who do they think they are?) The menorah sponsors are a kindred but more pathetic story. (If the goyim can do it, so can we.) Both are joined together as enemies of the mutual forbearance that is at the heart of religious freedom in a pluralist society.

The gist of the demand is that the muscle of your religion be displayed in the public space. The subject, as is usual with facile shows of patriotism, is power. It is put, to be sure, as a matter of free expression by the creche and menorah advocates, but that is largely fraud or self-delusion.. There are ample private spaces in every community, amply visible, for displaying religious icons. The insistence on the public space, the space that belongs to all of us, is to show those others, the nonadherents. The distinction is readily, if not always malevolently, blurred. . .

Whatever misunderstandings may beset a recent refugee from Soviet atheism, there is no ground for similar confusion, and probably no similar confusion, among most people who want their religious symbols standing on public property. The symbols make a statement-not of religious faith. They are not needed for that. They assert simply and starkly, as I've said, power over the nonbelievers. This was underscored for me in a fleeting moment of a case that ended 4-4 in the Supreme Court, the equal division (Justice Powell was ill and absent) resulting in a defeat for the village of Scarsdale (with me as unsuccessful counsel) when it sought to deny a place for a creche in a public circle.20 In the course of that proceeding, one of the sponsors of the creche was asked about his interest in viewing it while it stood on Scarsdale's Boniface Circle during the Christmas season. To my surprise as the questioner, it turned out that he never bothered to go look at the creche at all, let alone to admire or draw inspiration from it. But on reflection that should not have been so surprising. The creche was not there for him to see or appreciate for its intrinsic spiritual value in his religious universe. It was there for others, who professed other religions or none, so that the clout of his religious group should be made manifest—above all to any in the sharply divided village who would have preferred that it not be there: This is the low road, followed by at least a good number of those who seek for their religion and its symbols the imprimatur of government. If it is religious at all, this stance betokens a weak and self-doubting species of faith.

Much more blatant and unsettling than the creches and menorahs, and even the tasteless evasions of moment-of-silence laws, is the ongoing course of flat-out defiance of the Supreme Court's ban against organized prayer in the public schools. It is ironic at best that in God's name, while tracing the blessings of democracy to their religion, so many people hack at the most vital of democratic organs: the rule of law, including the acceptance of authoritative decisions by those commissioned to expound the Constitution. Ironic or not, the practice continues, at a steep price in human anguish and political subversion.


Faith and Freedom, Religious Liberty in America, Marvin E. Frankel (retired U S Federal District Court judge) Hill and Wang, N Y (1994) 55-64.

. . . The result is a tyranny of principles (including the emotivist's principle of deference to "objective expertise"), as well as a concomitant response in favor of a tyranny of individuals (anarchy). These twin aspects of emotivism are evident, for example, in the rise of efforts, under the rubrics of free speech and free exercise, to place formal Christian prayers sanctioned by school authority back into the public schools. The free exercise right is asserted here in terms of anarchical, radical individual rights: "my" individual rights, "my" absolute right to free exercise, without regard to the disestablishment principle or to competing interests of the community. Interestingly, where they are able, religious adherents (also or instead) argue the authoritarian side of emotivism: They reject any court's interpretations of the first amendment which recognize civil liberties contrary to their beliefs because these interpretations are based upon nothing more than the justices' personal opinions and subjective feelings.13 Their majority status and legislative influence are the hard facts which objectively, and thus conclusively, should decide the issue.


Regulating Religion, The Courts and the Free Exercise Clause. Catharine Cookson, Oxford University Press, (2001) p (Preface) ix.

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