Term Paper Separation Church State

Did the First Amendment’s restrictions concerning religious establishments mean that Congress—as well as the federal executive or judiciary—might religion in ways that did not disadvantage any faith groups?

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Over the course of many decades devoted to public service (including a combined 16 years in the presidency), these two men would decisively shape the relationship between church and state in the new American republic.

Their earliest collaboration followed the framing of Virginia’s state constitution in 1776, which exempted dissenters like the Baptists from paying taxes to support the Anglican clergy.

But the founding generation could not foresee our concerns: what consumed them was answering the needs of their present and avoiding the pitfalls of the past.

Those steeped in the ideals of the Enlightenment were determined to ensure that the religious wars which had wracked Europe would not engulf the new republic and that its clergy and churches would not acquire the wealth and influence which would enable them to play a prominent role in civil government.

At the same time, many Americans who cleaved to Christian orthodoxy—especially those who dissented from former or current religious establishments—were determined to ensure that no denomination would enjoy the unfair advantage of government support.

Both groups supported the separation of church and state, with Virginia’s bill for religious freedom providing the model.At that time, nearly all state constitutions required office-holders to swear to their belief in either the divine inspiration of the Old and New Testaments or the truth of Protestant Christianity, and one-third of the states still levied taxes to support Christian churches.Yet the delegates at Philadelphia wished to avoid protracted controversy over religious matters—which, in any case, most believed should be left to the states—and hoped to reach consensus on the Constitution as quickly as possible.Divining America 17th & 18th Centuries 19th Century 20th Century 17th & 18th Century Essays Native American Religion in Early America Deism & the Founding of the US Puritanism & Predestination The Legacy of Puritanism Witchcraft in Salem Village The First Great Awakening Religious Pluralism in the Middle Colonies Church and State in British North America The Church of England in Early America Religion, Women, & the Family Religion & the American Revolution Divining America is made possible by grants from the Lilly Endowment and the National Endowment for the Humanities.Divining America Advisors and Staff In 1773, it came to the notice of a weedy, bookish, young Virginian that some Baptists were languishing in a nearby jail.For many years before, as he well knew, magistrates had meted out fines and prison sentences to religious dissenters from the colony’s Anglican establishment.But this episode struck a nerve, prompting the young gentleman to condemn what he called the “diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution.” Perhaps that was because it occurred close to his family’s plantation, or perhaps, because the young man had recently graduated from Princeton, where he had been steeped in enlightened learning, including the ideas of John Locke.And many evangelical religious leaders, like the group of Presbyterian elders who took their concerns to George Washington in 1789, objected that the Constitution failed to acknowledge “the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.” (Washington evenly replied, “The path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction.”) It was difficult for the proponents of ratification to address Jefferson’s reservations.Thanks to Madison’s frequent letters to Paris, where Jefferson was serving as ambassador, he kept current with the debates over the Constitution and pressed for adding a bill of rights that would explicitly guarantee both full religious freedom and the separation of church and state.Even for Virginia’s government to sponsor all Christian religions, as Henry proposed, would establish a dangerous precedent, for “Who does not see that the same authority, which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?” Jefferson’s (1785) echoes a similar conviction: “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.


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