Tea Party paladina and Southern Baptist Sharron Angle, the Republican running to unseat Harry Reid in Nevada, recently offered the following interpretation of Thomas Jefferson’s famous 1801 letter to the Danbury Baptists, in which he interpreted the religion clauses of the First Amendment as erecting a “wall of separation” between church and state.
“Thomas Jefferson was addressing a church and telling them a wall of
separation had been put up precisely to protect the church from being
taken over by a state religion,” Angle said last month in an interview
on “Face to Face
With Jon Ralston.” “That’s what they meant. They didn’t mean we
couldn’t bring our values to the political forum.”
Sure, it’s spitting in the wind, but for the record, the Baptists in Connecticut were not seeking protection from “being taken over by a state religion.” What they objected to was that, under Connecticut’s Standing Order, the state taxed all citizens to support, well, the church of their choice. (If you didn’t have one, the taxes went to the Congregational church, which in those days dominated the local religious landscape.
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The Baptists didn’t want the state forcing them to support even their own church. The very idea of the state doing anything to advance religion was anathema to them. Like Jefferson the deist, they were the strictest of separationists, which was way they had looked to him for help. Sharron Angle and most of her fellow Southern Baptists have backslid pretty far from that old-time religion.