[N]o power (emphasis mine) over the freedom of religion . . . [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution. Kentucky Resolution, 1798.
In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government. Second Inaugural Address, 1805.
[O]ur excellent Constitution . . . has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary. Letter to the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1808. Thomas Jefferson, Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. I, p. 379, March 4, 1805.
I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions . . . or exercises. (emphasis mine) Letter to Samuel Miller, 1808.
In light of these statements, made both before as well as after Jefferson's use of the phrase wall of separation in 1802, to what conclusions should we come? In answering this question, I want to highlight the especially-telling quote, taken from Jefferson’s letter to Samuel Miller, where he asserts that the power of the federal government is "interdicted," that is, "prohibited and/or placed under a legal sanction" (Webster’s defined), by the First Amendment.
When you examine the First Amendment clause in light of this comment, you must conclude that the First Amendment was meant to insure that the federal government would remain passive on the issue of religious freedoms. In other words, it prevents the government from taking action against the free exercise of religion. The federal government, then, has no ability to enforce a "no religion zone" on federal and state facilities, public areas, or on any institution which accepts government support. It is a total and permanent restraining order against the federal government, barring it from the creation of regulations that might interfere with the free expression of religion by any citizen of this country.
Just as a restraining order prevents one individual or group from taking action against another individual or group, the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause prevents legislators from taking action against individuals or groups seeking to express their religious beliefs. In addition, this clause is extremely broad in scope; it does not specify certain places or times in which we can or cannot exercise this freedom.