With this even the Baptists had agreed; for while wanting to see the government prohibited from interfering with or limiting religious activities, they also had declared it a legitimate function of government “to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.” That Court, therefore, and others for example, Commonwealth v. Nesbit 17 and Lindenmuller v. The People 18, identified actions into which if perpetrated in the name of religion the government did have legitimate reason to intrude. Those activities included human sacrifice, polygamy, bigamy, concubinage, incest, infanticide, parricide, advocation and promotion of immorality, etc.
Such acts, even if perpetrated in the name of religion, would be stopped by the government since, as the Court had explained, they were “subversive of good order” and were “overt acts against peace and good order.” However, the government was never to interfere with traditional religious practices outlined in “the Books of the Law and the Gospel” whether public prayer, the use of the Scriptures, etc. Therefore, if Jefferson’s letter is to be used today, let its context be clearly given as in previous years. Furthermore, that single letter should never be invoked as a standalone document. Earlier Courts had always viewed Jefferson’s Danbury letter for what it was: a personal, private letter to a specific group.
There is probably no other instance in America’s history where words spoken by a single individual in a private letter words clearly divorced from their context have become the sole authorization for a national judicial policy. A proper analysis of Jefferson’s views must include his numerous other statements on the First Amendment.
For example, Jefferson also declared that the “power to prescribe any religious exercise must rest with the States” 19 emphasis added. Interestingly, the federal courts who misuse his separation phrase deliberately ignore this succinct declaration, regularly striking down scores of State laws which encourage or facilitate public religious expressions. Such rulings are a direct violation of the intent of the one on whom the courts claim so heavily to rely. One further note should be made about the now infamous “separation” dogma.
The Congressional Records from June 7 to September 25, 1789, record the months of discussions and debates of the ninety Founding Fathers who framed the First Amendment. Significantly, during those debates not one of those ninety Framers ever mentioned the phrase “separation of church and state.”