Wall Metaphor

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First Amendment Advocate, Special Issue   January 2006

The Newsletter of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United


The Original Intent of the First Amendment

The Origin of the "Wall" Metaphor for Church/State Separation

“The church of the Jews under the Old Testament in the type and the church of the Christians under the New Testament in the antitype were both separate from the world; and when they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the candlestick, and made his garden a wilderness.”

— Roger Williams

As quoted in Perry Miller, Roger Williams:  His Contribution to the American Tradition.  Atheneum, 1962, p. 98.

 Roger Williams and Religious Liberty for Persons of All Faiths

Roger Williams’s definition of “conscience” is in a letter he wrote about the persecution of three Baptists in Boston.  He said,

“I speak of conscience, a persuasion fixed in the mind and heart of man, which enforceth him to judge (as Paul said of himself a persecutor) and to do so and so with respect to God, His worship.

This conscience is found in all mankind, more or less in Jews, Turks, Papists, Protestants, pagans.”

Williams, a strict Separatist Protestant, insisted that no one was to violate the “consciences of the Jews, nor the consciences of the Turks, or Papists, or pagans themselves.”


As quoted in William Lee Miller, The First Liberty:  America’s Foundation in Religious Freedom.  Expanded and Updated.  Georgetown University Press, 2003, pp. 170-71.


On the influence of Roger Williams, William Lee Miller writes,

“The crotchety, disorganized, and insistently Christian writings of Roger Williams were not the sort of thing Thomas Jefferson was likely to read, but John Locke clearly had read them.  When one reads Locke’s letter (on toleration), one finds many echoes of Williams as anticipations of Jefferson.  Even in Jefferson’s Virginia Statute (Establishing Religious Freedom) one might find some echoes from Rhode Island’s charter.”  (p. 176)




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