Term Paper Separation Church State

Term Paper Separation Church State-21
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?Could the state governments (many of which still had religious establishments in 1791) continue to mandate taxpayer support for Christianity in general or for any religious denomination in particular?That did not go far enough to satisfy Jefferson, so in 1779 he presented a bill to the state legislature guaranteeing full religious liberty to all Virginians—not merely tax exemptions to non-Anglicans—only to meet with resistance from those who deemed his measure too radical.

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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.

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.And in 1786, the Virginia legislature snuffed out the last vestiges of the state’s religious establishment by passing Jefferson’s bill for religious freedom.It provided that “…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever…nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” It marked a signal victory for Madison and Jefferson.In the end, Madison agreed, and the First Amendment, added to the Constitution in 1791 as one of ten amendments comprising the Bill of Rights, opens with the declaration that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But (to indulge in a riot of understatement), the adoption of the First Amendment did not settle the matter.While unequivocally affirming liberty of conscience as a fundamental private right, it pronounced ambiguously on the separation of church and state and the relationship between religion and society.That omission marked a departure from the founding documents of 1776: the Declaration of Independence invokes the “Creator” in setting forth the basis of human rights and the Articles of Confederation alludes to the “Great Governor of the World.” As the members of the Constitutional Convention expected, the matter of religion proved more contentious in the ratification debates, which followed.Some Anti-Federalist critics of the proposed Constitution warned that abolishing religious tests would allow Jews, Catholics, and Quakers—even “pagans, deists, and Mahometans [Muslims]”—to hold federal office, perhaps even to dominate the new national government.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.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.


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