Written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802, it should make clear and debate about whether the First Amendment is intended to cause separation of Church and State. He was so concerned with the wording that he sent drafts to at least two people, Gideon Granger, his Postmaster General, and Levi Lincoln, his Attorney General. Originally, Jefferson had a section that emphasized his opposition to proclaiming days of fasting and thanksgiving, but it was recommended he remove it due to the established tradition of Eastern states, where it might cost him political support.

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist Association, give me the highest satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, and in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and state. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect and esteem.

It occurs to me that there's no evidence that Jefferson intended separation of church and state to outlaw school prayer or nativity scenes (although, for the record, I'm opposed to both). It seems more likely that he meant to separate the church and state in a more literal way. At that time, Christian leaders had an official role in the government, or vice versa. In Great Britain, for example, a number of Anglican bishops still have the right to vote on legislature as a result of their seats in the House of Lords. The French Estates-General gave the Catholic clergy one-third of the voting power. At the same time, government leaders had control over their churches--the Queen of England is still official head of the Anglican church, and in Jefferson's time the kings of France, Austria, and Spain could veto the election of a Pope they didn't like.

Is there any evidence that Jefferson intended to separate the church and state beyond the extent of keeping these intertwinings of religious and government office from being established in the United States?

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