The concept of separation of church and state refers to the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the nation state. The term is an offshoot of the phrase, “wall of separation between church and state,” as written in Thomas Jefferson‘s letter to the Danbury Baptists Association in 1802. The original text reads: “…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 & State.” Jefferson reflected his frequent speaking theme that the government is not to interfere with religion. The phrase was quoted by the United States Supreme Court first in 1878, and then in a series of cases starting in 1947. Like many other governing principles, the phrase “separation of church and state” itself does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The concept of separation has since been adopted in a number of countries, to varying degrees depending on the applicable legal structures and prevalent views toward the proper role of religion in society. A similar principle of laïcitéhas been applied in France and Turkey, while some socially secularized countries such as Norway have maintained constitutional recognition of an official state religion. The concept parallels various other international social and political ideas, including secularism, disestablishment, religious liberty, and religious pluralism. Whitman (2009) observes that in many European countries, the state has, over the centuries, taken over the social roles of the church, leading to a generally secularized public sphere.