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GOP Rep. Boebert: ‘I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk’

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) speaks at a news conference at the Capitol on June 8. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)
5 min

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), who faces a primary election Tuesday, says she is “tired” of the U.S. separation of church and state, a long-standing concept stemming from a “stinking letter” penned by one of the Founding Fathers.

Speaking at a religious service Sunday in Colorado, she told worshipers: “The church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our Founding Fathers intended it.”

She added: “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution. It was in a stinking letter, and it means nothing like what they say it does.” Her comments were first reported by the Denver Post.

The Constitution’s First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” has been widely interpreted to mean the separation of church and state — although the phrase is not explicitly used.

Gwen Calais-Haase, a political scientist at Harvard University, told The Washington Post that Boebert’s interpretation of the Constitution was “false, misleading and dangerous.” Calais-Haase said she was “extremely worried about the environment of misinformation that extremist politicians take advantage of for their own gains.”

Steven K. Green, a professor of law and affiliated professor of history and religious studies at Willamette University, agreed, saying, “Rep. Boebert is wrong on both matters.”

“While the phrase separation of church and state does not appear verbatim in the Constitution, neither do many accepted constitutional principles such as separation of powers, judicial review, executive privilege, or the right to marry and parental rights, no doubt rights that Rep. Boebert cherishes,” wrote Green, the author of “Separating Church and State: A History.”

Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, tweeted in reaction to Boebert’s comment a line from the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of Religion.”

“I can’t. Not today,” Steele wrote.

The “stinking letter” that Boebert mentioned is apparently an 1802 missive sent from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association. Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and a leading advocate of including a bill of rights in the Constitution, wrote in explaining the First Amendment: “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.”

The Supreme Court has since cited Jefferson’s letter in key cases, according to the Freedom Forum Institute, an advocacy group that works to raise awareness of First Amendment rights. The calls for a separation between church and state intensified in the 1800s as Americans feared the dominance of the Catholic Church over government issues.

Green told The Post that those in the generation that founded the United States “saw religious disestablishment as working in both directions: protecting the state from religion and vice versa.” The concept around separate spheres of civil and religious authority goes as far back as the Middle Ages and the Protestant Reformation, he said.

“In fact, one of the leading controversies that preceded the American Revolution involved widespread opposition to efforts to create an Anglican bishop in the American colonies, which colonists feared would increase the political power of the church and infringe on civil liberties,” Green said.

A day after Boebert’s comments, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a school board in Washington state discriminated against a former football coach when it disciplined him for postgame prayers at midfield.

The decision favored the protection of religious faith over concerns about government endorsement of religion.

Supreme Court rules for high school football coach who prayed at midfield

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote in the 6-to-3 decision that Bremerton High School assistant coach Joseph Kennedy’s prayers were protected by the Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and religious exercise.

“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic — whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field,” Gorsuch wrote. “Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected” by the Constitution.

Boebert, a firebrand member of the Republican Party, is being challenged by other party candidates in Tuesday’s primary in Colorado.

Among the primary elections and runoffs taking place Tuesday in seven states are five U.S. Senate races, four gubernatorial contests and dozens of polls for House seats. The results could give early insight into how voters are reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision Friday overturning Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed abortion rights for almost half a century.

Five races to watch in Tuesday’s primaries

Boebert thanked God for the court’s decision and received loud approval from the congregation Sunday at the Cornerstone Christian Center in Basalt.

“Look at what happened this week?” she said to cheers.

“This is the fruit of your labor, of your votes and of your prayers — this is your harvest,” she added.

Without naming him, Boebert also appeared to thank Donald Trump for his presidential role in nominating three conservative justices to the court. “God called a man who was not a politician to run for office, and I believe he was anointed for that position. He answered that call,” she said.

She rallied worshipers to be “bold,” stressing that “there’s still work to do.”

“It is so vital for the church to assemble,” she said.