Opinion: Most Americans Have a Misunderstanding of “Separation Of Church And State”

There is an unfortunate trend in America today toward the belief that religion and politics are two separate entities that can’t intersect. Often, people interpret Thomas Jefferson’s use of the phrase “separation of church and state” to mean that religion shouldn’t influence one’s political decisions or that religion should not impact the views of those in office.

As Christians, we should be alarmed by this misinterpretation because if our faith is the foundation of who we are, it should influence every aspect of our lives, including our politics.

For Christians to be bold in their values and dispute the idea that religion shouldn’t play a role in politics, we need to get one thing straight: the real meaning of “separation of church and state.” 

The origin of the expression “separation of church and state” is found in a letter from Thomas Jefferson written to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The Danbury Baptist Association had written a letter to the president voicing their concern that their state constitution lacked specific protections of religious freedom. 

The Danbury Baptists wrote in the letter, “what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the State) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. And these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgments, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen.”

Jefferson responded to the Danbury Baptists by referencing the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. 

“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,” Jefferson said.

The metaphor of a “wall of separation” was not intended to say that religion should not influence opinion on government issues. Rather, it was used to affirm free religious practice for citizens.   

With this in mind, Christians should have courage to be bold in their faith. This means being a pillar of light in the spheres of influence God has entrusted them with and allow the truth of the Bible to guide their daily and political decision making. The “wall of separation” is to keep the government from influencing our religious practice, not to keep our personal religious values separate from who we vote for and what issues we stand for and against. 

A prime example of someone who boldly lives out their Christian faith in public service and the political realm is former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. I was encouraged during an interview at 2021 CPAC that his Christian faith guided him in every decision that he made as Secretary of State. 

“It undergirds everything that I do – I was America’s Secretary of State, my oath was to defend the U.S. Constitution, people of all faiths but I also looked at everything from a Christian viewpoint.” Pompeo said. “That’s who I am, that’s my grounding, it’s my center point. So, it impacted every single decision that I made, there’s no doubt about that.”

Christians do have a place in politics, and we need courageous followers of Christ to speak up and to be in office now more than ever. Religious devotion should be an admirable trait as it shows that a person has moral and ethical grounding. 

“Most people will see it and will say, ‘that is a person who has principle and faith’ and they will admire you for that, whether they are a Christian or not,” Pompeo said.

As Christians, the absolute truth of the Bible, Christ’s example and the guidance of the Holy Spirit must be our foundation and should be evident in our political views. Christians are called to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth and to speak the truth of the Bible in love. 

Pompeo’s advises a bold and kind rhetoric in how we talk about Jesus.

“If you’re kind, this is where happy warriors succeed, right. We do it with a smile, we don’t do it out of anger, we don’t do it with a harsh tone, but we are clear about who we are,” Pompeo said. 

In a country that is inching closer and closer to post modernity and during a time where division tends to define our country, we need the message of Christ more than ever and we need bold and kind Christ followers to keep the faith and fight the good fight.  

Pompeo’s theme of being a happy warrior was reflected in a conversation I had with Texas Senator Ted Cruz at CPAC. Cruz also reiterated a refreshing and powerful perspective to me, illuminating the importance of standing firm in your beliefs. 

“Remember what you believe and why, defend liberty, and do it with a smile,” Cruz said. “The great thing about eternal truths, they’re always true. Be a winsome, joyful, happy warrior. It’s a powerful thing.”

Mia Nelson is the Asst. News Editor. View her LinkedIn profile here.


  • Marcia Smith Edwards

    It is so encouraging that there are young people who understand the true, original meaning of “separation of church and state”. Thank you, Mia Nelson, for your thoughtful opinion in the true interpretation of separation of church and state!

  • Excellent opinion article.

  • Scott Maycumber

    “… if our faith is the foundation of who we are, it should influence every aspect of our lives, including our politics.”

    Well said Mia. As Dr. Tony Evans espoused, we should not call ourselves conservative Christians or liberal Christians. In doing so, conservative and liberal are the adjectives to the noun. Adjectives are modifiers which means our conservative or liberal views modify the noun which is our Christianity. Instead our Christianity should serve as the adjective that modifies our political ideology. We should instead state ourselves as Christian Conservative or Christian Liberal. Then our faith modifies our actions. That is how the church finds unity in politics.

  • Mike Pompeo being a Christian has been accused of politicizing the dept to support Don Trumps personal agenda, peddling propaganda & mis-information to defend the administration & attack its critics. He initally supported Trumps baseless claim that he not President Joe Biden won the election ” the big lie”. He also never mentioned or condemmed Donald Trump for his part in the insurrection on Jan 6th.
    How can he say his Christian values are always used in his life decisions and what he says…
    Lets be honest and not mis-lead..

  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion… it’s in the first line. If you say, “abortion is wrong because it’s against my religion”, then congress cannot make a law based on this “belief” because if they do, they are respecting an establishment of religion by appeasing laws to the base of their religious constituents. I’m using abortion as an example because it’s a hot topic for the religious fanatics who want their opinion made into law. You can believe in whatever you want, but you can’t force your beliefs onto anyone in the country because it’s what you believe, by changing the laws to respect your religion…. It’s common sense.

  • You are Hypocrisy at its best.

    So you speak of freedom of religion and speech yet you delete the comments on your post. Showing the true colors yet again of you religious fanatics of attempting to silence anyone who isn’t in line of what your beliefs are. You should be ashamed of yourself. Look in the mirror and tell yourself if you truly see yourself or the person hiding being a mask of lies.

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