Educational Events

Atheist Resources

Presidential and Religious Quotes

Quotes from history that support separation of church and state.

Presidential Quotes

“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 prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” ~Thomas Jefferson 1802

“We establish no religion in this country. We command no worship. We mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are and must remain separate.” ~Ronald Reagan 1984

“Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.” ~James Madison 1822

“I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this county in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.” ~Andrew Jackson 1832

“The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent — that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgement.” ~John Tyler 1843

“Thank God, under our Constitution there was no connection between Church and State, and that in my action as President of the United States I recognized no distinction of creeds in my appointments office.” ~James K. Polk 1846

“I am tolerant of all creeds. Yet if any sect suffered itself to be used for political objects I would meet it by political opposition. In my view church and state should be separate, not only in form, but fact. Religion and politics should not be mingled.” ~Millard Fillmore 1856

“The United States government must not undertake to run the Churches. When an individual, in the Church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest he must be checked.” ~Abraham Lincoln 1864

“Let us labor for the security of free thought, free speech, pure morals, unfettered religious sentiments, and equal rights and privileges for all men, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion;…. leave the matter of religious teaching to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contribution. Keep church and state forever separate.” ~Ulysses S. Grant 1875

“We all agree that neither the Government nor political parties ought to interfere with religious sects. It is equally true that religious sects ought not to interfere with the Government or with political parties. We believe that the cause of good government and the cause of religion suffer by all such interference.” ~Rutherford B. Hayes 1875

“The divorce between Church and State ought to be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state or in the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community.” ~James A. Garfield 1874

“In my judgment, while it is the duty of Congress to respect to the uttermost the conscientious convictions and religious scruples of every citizen … not any ecclesiastical organization can be safely permitted to usurp in the smallest degree the functions and powers of the national government.” ~James A Garfield 1881

“I hold that in this country there must be complete severance of Church and State; that public moneys shall not be used for the purpose of advancing any particular creed; and therefore that the public schools shall be non-sectarian and no public moneys appropriated for sectarian schools.” ~Theodore Roosevelt 1915

“To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against the liberty of conscience, which is one of the foundations of American life.” ~Theodore Roosevelt 1908

“It is my firm belief that there should be separation of church and state in the United States–that is, that both church and state should be free to operate, without interference from each other in their respective areas of jurisdiction. We live in a liberal, democratic society which embraces wide varieties of belief and disbelief. There is no doubt in my mind that the pluralism which has developed under our Constitution, providing as it does a framework within which diverse opinions can exist side by side and by their interaction enrich the whole, is the most ideal system yet devised by man. I cannot conceive of a set of circumstances which would lead me to a different conclusion.” ~John F. Kennedy 1959

“Whatever one’s religion in his private life may be, for the officeholder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution and all its parts — including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.” ~John F. Kennedy 1959

“We do not want an official state church. If ninety-nine percent of the population were Catholics, I would still be opposed to it. I do not want civil power combined with religious power. I want to make it clear that I am committed as a matter of deep personal conviction to separation.” ~John F Kennedy 1960

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and ate is absolute: where no catholic prelate would tell the President—should he be catholic—how to act and protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference…[ and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him]… where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials…” ~John F. Kennedy, 1960

“I believe in the American tradition of separation of church and state which is expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. By my office – and by my personal conviction–I am sworn to uphold that tradition.” ~Lyndon B. Johnson 1964

“As you know, the separation of church and state is not subject to discussion or alteration. Under our Constitution no church or religion can be supported by the U.S. Government. We maintain freedom of religion so that an American can either worship in the church of his choice or choose to go to no church at all.” ~Richard Nixon 1960

“We believe in separation of church and state, that there should be no unwarranted influence on the church or religion by the state, and vice versa.” ~Jimmy Carter 1977

“Strongly the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States…the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church and state.” ~James Madison 1819

“The United States of America . . . [In] the formation of the American governments . . . it will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of heaven. . . . These governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” ~John Adams 1787

Religious Quotes

“God has appointed two kinds of government in the world, which are distinct in their nature, and ought never to be confounded together; one of which is called civil, the other ecclesiastical government...” ~Isaac Backus, Colonial Baptist Preacher, 1773

“[The Drafters of the Constitution] knew that religious liberty requires freedom from any identification of religion with state action. They were intent on avoiding more than 100 years of religious intolerance and persecution in American colonial history and an even longer heritage of church-state problems in Europe.” ~John M. Swomley, United Methodist Minister, 1987

“[Disestablishment was] the best thing that ever happened to the state of Connecticut. It cut the churches loose from dependence on state support. It threw them wholly on their own resources and on God.” ~Rev. Lyman Beecher, Congregationalist clergyman, 1961

“For the civil authority to pretend to establish particular modes of faith and forms of worship, and to punish all that deviate from the standards which our superiors have set up, is attended with the most pernicious consequences to society... [W]e live in a land where everyone can freely deliver his sentiments upon religious subjects, and have the privilege of worshipping God according to the dictates of his own conscience, without any molestation or disturbance - a privilege which I hope we shall ever keep up and strenuously maintain.” ~Samuel West, Congregational Pastor, 1776

“Let every man speak freely without fear--maintain the principles that he believes--worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing...” ~John Leland, Baptist minister, 1791

(The 1962 U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting state-supported prayer in public schools was) “sound and good, reaffirming something basic in the Nation’s life: separation of church and state.” ~Martin Luther King Jr, 1964

“The First Amendment provides unique protections for the free exercise of religion by believers and religious institutions. It also assures religion an honorable place in our public life. All government officers should exercise their civil authority according to the principles and within the limits of civil government. When acting as public officials they are not free to apply personal convictions or preferences - religious or other - in place of the defined responsibilities of their public offices.” ~Elder Dallin H. Oaks, 2015

Return to top