LOGAN, UTAH The phrase "separation of church and state" is not found in the U.S. Constitution and is often taken out of the context of the document in which it did appear, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve observed here Sept. 17.
Elder Ballard gave the keynote address at "A Day to Remember," an annual community pageant celebrating the birth of the Constitution and presented at the Kent Concert Hall on the Utah State University campus on the anniversary of the date the document was signed in 1787.
Elder Ballard, who attended with his wife, Barbara, spoke of the men who forged the nation as being believers in the Bible and Christianity.
"America at that time was the most literate nation in the world, and Christianity was at the very center of its education system," he noted.
He quoted James Russell Lowell as saying the American republic would endure "as long as the ideas of the men who founded it continue dominant." Then, Elder Ballard lamented, "Unfortunately, significant changes have already occurred."
He added, "In recent years, the phrase separation of church and state has become almost a fixture in legal rulings," and recounted an incident in which a well-known author was discussing the phrase with a U.S. congressman. The congressman stated that politicians know that religious values are important but they cannot do anything about them because "separation of church and state" prevents them from imposing religious values in public affairs.
The author asked where the phrase is found. The congressman replied that it is in the Constitution. The author then handed the congressman a copy of the Constitution and said, "Show me." The congressman turned to the First Amendment and began to read, but then stopped, looked embarrassed, and exclaimed: "I can't believe this! In law school they always taught us that is what the First Amendment said."
Elder Ballard then quoted the actual wording of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or prohibiting the free exercise of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
The apostle explained: "An examination of the Congressional Records from June 7 to September 25, 1789, clearly shows that all the Founding Fathers wanted was to preclude the establishment by the federal government of one denomination as the official church to the exclusion of all others."
He added: "The phrase 'separation of church and state' seems to have been lifted out of context from a letter written by President Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists. The Danbury Baptists had heard a rumor that the Congregational Church was going to be made the National Church of America and wrote expressing concern about their 'free exercise of religion.' Attempting to put their minds at rest, President Jefferson affirmed that the free exercise of religion was an inalienable right and would not be meddled with by the government. He pointed out to them that there was a 'wall of separation between church and state' to insure that the government would never interfere with religious activities. Today, all that is heard of Jefferson's letter is the phrase, 'a wall of separation between church and state,' without either the context or the explanation given in the letter. Certainly, Jefferson himself had no hesitancy in requiring that the Washington D.C. schools use the Bible and the Watts Hymnal as required textbooks."
Elder Ballard recounted that in 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the New York State Board of Regents could not require public school children to recite a prayer authored by the regents. The following year, he said, the court struck down Maryland and Pennsylvania statutes that required the reading of the Lord's Prayer and other Biblical passages each morning in public schools in those states.
"These decisions, defensible in their intent to forbid state-authored and state-required prayers, became the turning point in interpretation of the First Amendment," Elder Ballard said.
He quoted this passage from a July 1990 Ensign article by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve: "Many understand the law today as being hostile rather than neutral toward religion as forbidding all public prayers rather than simply prohibiting state-authored and state-required prayers in public schools. Instead of just preventing instances of state-sponsored religion in the public schools, the school prayer cases have unleashed forces that have sometimes been used to prevent the free exercise of religion."
Elder Ballard commented: "The battle continues as efforts are under way to preclude the display of the Ten Commandments in a courtroom, a public school or on other public property. These very commandments are the same ones James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution, spoke of when he said, 'We have staked the future of American civilization, not upon the power of the government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments.'
"Brothers and sisters, the principles and philosophies upon which our constitutional law is based are not simply the result of the best efforts of a remarkable group of brilliant men. They were inspired by God, and the rights and privileges guaranteed in the Constitution are God given, not man derived. No nation or people that rejects God or His commandments can prosper or find happiness."
The "A Day to Remember" pageant results from the efforts of scores of people in the community each year. Written and narrated by Scott N. Bradley and directed by Hazel Stroud, it retells through music and drama the stories of Columbus, the Mayflower Compact, Paul Revere's ride, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Nathan Hale, Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine, Valley Forge, George Washington's prayer, and the Constitutional Convention.
A touching moment in the production recounts the fate of many of the signers of the Declaration, who had to go into hiding, who lost their entire fortunes, and some of whom were killed or who had members of their families imprisoned or slain.
The production, which was also presented the previous evening minus the speech by Elder Ballard, was highlighted by performances from the Logan Institute of Religion choir, and the New Horizons choir. The Utah State University ROTC and a costumed fife-and-drum corps presented and retired the colors. For the retirement of the colors, Boy Scouts from throughout Cache Valley carried American flags through the auditorium, to the accompaniment of choir music.
Brother Bradley said the occasion was expanded this year to include other events, such as a speech contest for middle school and junior high school students. Earlier on the day of the performance at which Elder Ballard spoke, four F-16 jets from Hill Air Force Base flew over Logan from the south to the north. Then, at 2 p.m. MDT, which coincided with the anniversary of the date and hour when the Constitution was signed in Philadelphia, three of the jets returned to fly back over the city in the "missing-man" formation honoring those who sacrificed their lives for the founding of the United States.