Derek H. Davis lays out the “classic separation” perspective by citing how religious liberty is America’s gift to the world. While most of his essay discusses the American Founders’ rationale for “classic separation,” he starts by mentioning the theological foundation of church and state, which is that all are created in the Image of God. Image bearers must be honored and belief and practice cannot be coerced. The difference between the classic and “strict” separationist view is that in Davis’ model, there can be some interaction between church and state.
The Basic Debate: The Meaning of the Religion Clauses
The 1st Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The first clause means the government cannot establish a church, but the second clause, the “free exercise clause” leads to much debate. I’ll save the debate, but Davis believes it refers to “classic separation” because direct/financial support of religion compromises the religious mission and its ability to be a prophetic voice.
While he admits it is difficult to determine from the Framers of the Constitution whether it should be separate or whether it accommodates partnership, he opts that, based on the founders’ deliberations, the separatist view is preferred, particularly since “nonpreferential” language toward religion was rejected up to five times in the process of writing the Amendment. If the framers thought it was an issue of fairness, they had ample opportunity. Since they didn’t, it seems they were aiming at separation.
Classic separation has been an historical process. Many colonies supported churches, but most stopped around the time of the Revolutionary War. After that, religious tests for holding office ended, and then finally they decriminalized religious behavior (e.g., being Catholic, etc…).