“Next Time Your Liberal Friends Talk About the Separation of Church and State, Ask Them Why They’re Nazis”

From the Republican candidate for the House of Representatives from Delaware, Glen Urquhart (see Raw Story for the video). Urquhart later said, “I didn’t mean to suggest — and I am not suggesting — that people who are liberals are Nazis”; I take it he means that the quote was hyperbole or humor. But the material before the quote seemed pretty straight-faced; here’s what he said:

Do you know, where does this phrase “separation of church and state” come from? … Actually, that exact phrase was not in Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. He was reassuring them that the federal government wouldn’t trample on their religion. The exact phrase “separation of Church and State” came out of Adolf Hitler’s mouth. That’s where it comes from, so next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of church and state, ask them why they’re Nazis.

[UPDATE: I should note that this is from an event in April; it’s in the news now, I take it, because Urquhart just won the primary and became the general election candidate this week.]

In fact, in Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, he did speak of “a wall of separation between Church & State.” If Urquhart is trying to draw a distinction between “separation of Church and State” and “separation between Church & State,” that seems pretty hard to justify. But in any case, a quick Google Books search for “separation of church and state” before 1900 reveals many references; in American court cases alone, it dates back to 1825 (in an argument of counsel) and 1840 (in a judge’s opinion). I’ve found several references before the letter to the Danbury Baptists, for instance here.

I can’t speak to what Hitler said about the separation of church and state. But it’s quite clear that the American phrase “separation of church and state” does not at all come from Hitler; it probably preexisted Jefferson, was likely popularized by him, and was routinely used long before the Americans ever heard of Hitler. So even if Urquhart’s statement quoted in the title of this post was an exaggeration or a joke, it was an exaggeration or a joke based on an error.

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.

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