Focus on the Family founder James Dobson attacked the wall of separation between church and state during a Nov. 22 appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” telling King that the concept is not in the Constitution.
The topic came up after King quizzed Dobson on his opposition to same-sex marriage. The CNN host asked, “Why can’t marriage be somewhere in the middle, a religious institution? You want to be married, you go to a church, you go to a synagogue, but anything to do with the state should be a [civil] union.”
King apparently did not find Dobson’s answer to his liking and prodded further, asking, “Why is it a state institution rather than a religious institution? Why is the state involved? We have a separation of church and state.”
To this Dobson replied, “Beg your pardon? Who says?”
King replied, “You don’t believe in separation of church and state?”
Dobson answered, “Not the way you mean it. The separation of church and state is not in the Constitution. No, it’s not. That is not in the Constitution.”
King interrupted with, “It’s in the Bill of Rights.”
To this Dobson replied, “It’s not in the Bill of Rights. It’s not anywhere in a foundational document. The only place where the so-called ‘wall of separation’ was mentioned was in a letter written by Jefferson to a friend. That’s the only place. It has been picked up and made to be something it was never intended to be. What it has become is that the government is protected from the church, instead of the other way around, which is that church was designed to be protected from the government.”
Before breaking for a commercial, King added, “I’m going to check my history.”
In an entry on Americans United’s blog “The Wall of Separation,” AU staffer Lauren Smith dissected Dobson’s position – and explained why it is wrong.
Smith pointed out that the words “separation of church and state” are not in the Constitution, but added, “As Dr. Dobson correctly pointed out, the phrase comes from Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists where he assured the congregation that the American people, through the recently adopted First Amendment, had built a ‘wall of separation between Church and State.’”
Continued Smith, “Just because the exact language is absent from the Constitution, however, does not mean the separation principle is an illusion. Several of our Constitution’s fundamental principles appear nowhere in the text. Yet, we accept them because they explain what our democracy stands for.
“‘A system of checks and balances’ appears nowhere in the Constitution. ‘Checks and balances’ is our way of explaining what Articles I, II and III set out to accomplish. They set up three separate, but equal branches of government (a phrase also nowhere to be found) that check the others’ power.”
Continued Smith, “Nowhere does the Constitution say the criminally accused have a ‘right to a fair trial.’ I doubt Dr. Dobson would argue the right is a farce because the exact language does not appear in the Bill of Rights. The ‘right to a fair trial’ actually explains at least thirteen separate rights or procedures that must be met to satisfy the ‘right to a fair trial.’”
Smith also noted that the words “no taxation without representation” also do not appear in the Constitution, yet the concept is contained therein.
“The ‘separation of church and state’ is no different,” Smith concluded. “It is a simple phrase that describes a very real constitutional principle. As Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black explained in one landmark church-state case, ‘The constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is no part of the business of government to’ meddle in religion. This is the ‘separation of church and state’ and our religious freedom depends on it.”