House Speaker Mike Johnson (R) addressed the misunderstanding of the “separation of church and state,” which is not mentioned in the Constitution, on Tuesday during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” with host Andrew Ross Sorkin.
When asked about his decision to pray on the House floor after being sworn in as speaker, he explained that this does not violate any great principle banning faith from the public square. Johnson provided a history lesson to further elucidate his point.
“Faith — our deep religious heritage and tradition — is a big part of what it means to be an American. When the founders set this system up, they wanted a vibrant expression of faith in the public square because they believed that a general moral consensus and virtue was necessary to maintain this grand experiment in self-governance that we created: a government of, by, and for the people. We don’t have a king in charge,” Johnson said. “So, we’ve got to keep morality amongst us so that we have accountability.”
Johnson then explained why “the separation of church and state is a misnomer.”
“People misunderstand it,” he said. “Of course, it comes from a phrase that was in a letter that [Thomas] Jefferson wrote. It’s not in the Constitution. And what he was explaining is they did not want the government to encroach upon the church — not that they didn’t want principles of faith to have influence on our public life. It’s exactly the opposite.”
Subsequently, Johnson cited George Washington’s renowned farewell address and John Adams.
- Washington: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports”
- Adams: “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other”
“They knew that [faith] would be important to maintain our system,”Johnson explained.
“And that’s why I think we need more of that — not an establishment of any national religion — but we need everybody’s vibrant expression of faith because it’s such an important part of who we are as a nation,” he said.
At the conclusion of the interview, Johnson affirmed that Jefferson envisioned a “wall between church and state” in order to protect the free exercise of religion from interference by Government.
This vision was enshrined in two clauses of the First Amendment: The Establishment Clause, which prohibits Congress from passing any law respecting an establishment of religion; and The Free Exercise Clause, which prohibits Congress from passing any law prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
Thus, it is clear that religious liberty is protected under the Constitution.
Erica Carlin is an independent journalist, opinion writer and contributor to several news and opinion sources. She is based in Georgia.