The basic question comes up in this subject is why the separation between religion and state should be applied. Is the state dangerous for religious freedom? Or the influence of religion can harm the stability of the state.
Answering those big questions, first of all we have to dig the history of the United States around 17th and 18th. In this early development era, United States had chosen the paradigm of separating between religion and political state.
In the colonial era, when the colonies were still under the protection of British Empire, The act of toleration of 1689 had been issued in England. This act purposed to prevent the conflict among diverse Protestants in the colonies. It was as the protection for all Protestants, the vast majority of the population of the colonies, in the free exercise of their religion.
The controversy idea of separation between church and state began from the debate between two theologians, Roger William and John Cotton. Roger William, the Baptist Theologian, the founder of the colony Rhode Island, issued the phrase “the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world” by his book “The Bloody Tenent of Persecution in 1664. He also stated that the civil authority had no power whatsoever pertaining the first table, that is, the first three precept the Ten Commandments dealing entirely with religious practice and worship.
First table of the ten Commandments in Christianity consist the three first precept of Commandments, there are; first, You shall have no other gods before me. Second, You shall not make for yourselves an idol. And third, You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. While, the second table of the ten Commanments consist the last part of ten commandments, there are; Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, Honor your father and your mother, You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor, You shall not covet.
Meanwhile based on the different understanding of Commandments, John Cotton rejected William’s Idea since Cotton believe that If the civil magistrate had no power in matters pertaining to the first table , then he was also forbidden to enforce the moral legislation contained in the second table (the rest part of ten commandment that related to the moral orders). John cotton considered William’s approach would lead to chaos. Government’s role is important in religion to give protection and punishment for religious community so that they still in the right path of Ten Commandments.
Actually, America, until today, applies the combination of both theologians’ ideas. In one side, they insist that the civil government should not hold power over religion. However, in other side in the practicing, they are comfortable with Cotton’s idea; government still have role in religion matter.
In the revolution Era, the liberty of religion enlarge not only the liberty for protestants but also other religion; Judaism, Catholic, non-Christian.
After that, Treaty of Tripoli is also important fact of the United States nation since this admit that United States is not Christian country As it is widely known that the growth of the United States constructed by religious group immigrant that mostly protestants.. It has huge means in the development of United States as democracy state. This act also give the signal that the United States is free country and welcome all religions.
Actually, the famous figure who introduce the phrase ““separation church and state” is Thomas Jefferson. He wrote this phrase in his letter to Baptist from Danbury, Connecticut (1802). This letter aim to calm the worry of Danburry Baptist that state will have its power over religion similarly like monarchial British Empire. Jefferson guarantee them that the religion still hold its freedom without the interference of the state.
Another important figure is James Madison, another founding Father of United States. He directly states that “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Government in the Constitution of the United States”. He, just like Jefferson, believes that to build strong state, there must be clear wall that separate between religion and state. Since the old history of British Empire prove that religion too much interfere kingdom’s matter only lead the kingdom into more chaos.
The idea of this separation is also stated in the first amendment of the United States Amendments, the first sixteen words of the bill of rights, that states , “congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the three exercise thereof…”
Although the congress had been issued first amendment that explicitly separate between religion and state, the congress emerge with its ambiguity. They put his powers in promoting resolution of day of public prayer. In one side, they reject to involve in religious matter, but in one side they promote religious symbol and values.
Financial support of Religion in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century America is also important part of the history. The financial support is taken from two sources. First, the official tax from the public (it is applied in New England). And second it is taken from the voluntary contribution of the members of congregation (it is applied in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware ). The Quaker, one of denomination in the United States rejected the instituted public taxes support for minister or church. The idea of the Quaker, then, influenced another when the waves of the great awakening arrive. In the era of the great awakening, more and more people Revived and expanded the radical tradition of voluntary support inherited from the previous century.
In Conclusion, in the United States, separation religion and state is under contradictory application. Government holds principle no power in religion, but sometimes interfere religious activities by declaring symbol and religious values. According to the history, the state-religion separation aims to protect state (example; the treaty of Tripoli) and save the religion (the letter of Thomas Jefferson to the Baptist from Danbury).