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Founding Fathers and Separation

January 3, 2008

This being my first day off for the week, I got some more study done this morning. In my first hour after waking, before I even finished my first cup of coffee, I found yet another writing by Thomas Jefferson, supported by James Madison, which supports the Wall. It’s getting more and more plain to me that Rep. Paul is not the scholar that he professes himself to be, and anyone who denies that at least some of the Founding Fathers had intense interest in Separation is just plain ignorant, fooling themselves, or trying to fool others.

In 1777, Thomas Jefferson drafted an act called “An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom“, which he then proposed to the General Assembly of Virginia after becoming Governor of Virginia in 1779. This bill predicts the future Establishment clause and gives yet more clues as to how these two Founding Fathers (Jefferson and Madison) felt about the separation of civil and religious themes. Section I of the bill has a lot of good stuff:

Well Aware that:

  • the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds;

  • That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness

  • our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions

This Act resolves that:

SECT. II. WE, the General Assembly of Virginia, do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, 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 opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

The Act for Establishing Religious Freedom has one other telling aspect: it was the first time that a western government put into law an act to protect the religious freedom of all of it’s citizens, it it did that by ensuring a wall of separation between religion and civil government. Not only did Jefferson believe in and write favorably on the separation of church and state, he pioneered this worthy cause by bringing it into law in Virginia.

The Act for Establishing Religious Freedom is one of the reasons why the government of Virginia was a template for the Federal government, and is it not surprising that it found a partner in the First Amendment when the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2008 4:22 pm

    Excellent. I recommend reading “Jesus is Not a Republican: The Religious Right’s War on America”, if you haven’t already. There’s a chapter devoted to Madison and the separation of church and state.

  2. January 3, 2008 4:28 pm

    Yes, I’m working on another article centering on Madison, and will be heading to the bookstore tonight (hopefully). That will go on my list.


  3. January 3, 2008 7:23 pm

    Joe: I think you’re preaching to the choir here, whether they be liberals or classical liberals, otherwise known as conservatives. Keep in mind, however, that nothing you’ve shown here serves to back up the view that religion should be completely (or even virtually completely) excised from the public sphere. (And I’m not saying that’s your belief; however, to me you’re implying it.) Jefferson, Madison and whoever else didn’t believe that.

  4. January 3, 2008 7:29 pm

    Wow, I really didn’t mean to imply that!

    My view, as it stands, that religious doctrine should NEVER make it into legislation when it tramples the rights of the citizen. As for “in the public square” which I wish we had a better term for considering it’s vagueness, for instance the displaying of religious symbols/themes on public property, it doesn’t bother me as long as anyone is allowed to use that space for display. For instance, the story that I referenced in the Ron Paul and Separation thread.

  5. January 3, 2008 8:38 pm

    OK, I stand corrected then Joe! Thanks for setting me straight. πŸ˜‰

  6. January 3, 2008 9:57 pm

    It’s all good in the ‘hood πŸ˜‰

  7. Ed T. permalink
    January 4, 2008 9:47 am

    I’m just happy we got away from the sappy Joe and back into the “hardliner” version! πŸ™‚

  8. Brian permalink
    January 4, 2008 3:47 pm


    That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness

    I think this is the nut of the discussion. I don’t know a single Christian who would disagree with the above snippet. (I mean, the Gospel is not sharia) In fact, I would question the faith of any who did. The very idea of forcing your religious views on another is anathema to the foundations of Christianity. (I hold that the theocracies practiced in the name of Christ were tyrannies of men, not of God; God was just the excuse, much like “equality” was the excuse for the communist overthrow of Russian tsars)

    I think the disconnect in the “separation” conversation comes at where you draw the line. I don’t think anyone would disagree (unless they disliked the idea of criminal penalties in general) with stiff penalties for convicted pederasts; but the same moral repugnance attaches to more political issues as partial-birth abortion (for someone who holds the pro-life position).

    Is that integration of church and state? From a legal standpoint, how is an act a humanist considers criminally immoral (pederasty) different from an act a Christian considers criminally immoral (PBA)? (And I understand I’m making some broad assumptions here… if you can supply a better example, please do)

    Just fodder for discussion, Joe. I understand you’re not agitating for “freedom from religion.” I only wonder what you would define — at the minimum level — as a threat to your “wall”?


    or classical liberals, otherwise known as conservatives.

    Don’t you know you’re not supposed to mention that? Neocons are conservatives. Neocons have always been conservatives…

  9. Tyler Nixon permalink
    January 5, 2008 1:47 pm

    “Rep. Paul is not the scholar that he professes himself to be…”

    Sorry but I must have missed where Dr. Paul had made such professions. Cite?

    Simply holding forth opinions or interpretations about the work of historic figures is not equivalent to a profession of scholarship.

    If it was, Joe, you would be quite guilty of the same here. I will simply accept that, like Dana Garrett, nothing will assuage you with regard to Ron Paul since you have reached your conclusion on the basis of the information you have chosen to narrowly extract and focus upon.

    But it is OK, really. There are many single-issue people out there and, as Dr. Paul would, in fact, profess,…it is their absolute right to make their choices however they wish and on the basis of even the most irrelevant of arcana.

  10. January 5, 2008 11:27 pm


    Considering that Rep. Paul purports himself to be the candidate that goes solely by the Constitution, whether or not he calls himself Constitutional scholar is purely semantics.

    Also, when his “interpretations” of the Constitution are so far out of whack with the actual contents of the document, it is fair to call into question his grasp of the subject.

    While I don’t see myself as a “single-issue” person, in fact you would see the in the commentary of the previous articles that we covered more than one issue, I will say that the separation of church and state is a very important issue to me. While it may be irrelevant to you, it certainly is not to me.

    So yes, I have made my decision about Ron Paul. I have made it based on his views on issues that are important to me, and I would not change that whether or not my friend Tyler agrees with me.

    I hold my my decision to vote as a responsibility mandated to me by the Constitution, and I’ll be damned if I’ll be peer-pressured into a decision.

  11. Tyler Nixon permalink
    January 6, 2008 8:23 am

    Joe, how you vote or who you support is completely your discretion. There is no pressure from me for you to do otherwise. I respect your intellect and your judgment. As a friend however, I would be remiss not to point out where I think you are sniping Ron Paul in particular in a way that is not taking in the whole picture of his philosophy or his candidacy. But again, your decisions are your own.

    I only took exception to your accusing Paul of holding himself out as a constitutional scholar, something most certainly not required to “[go] solely by the Constitution”. (And perhaps I may be “out of whack” but is there any other legitimate way to govern in this country?)

    You say it as though he is positing some unique, “out of whack” political viewpoint for which he should somehow be held to a higher standard than other candidates. Would that all the candidates were scrutinized for the constitutional adherence of their programs, proposals, and policies…not just Ron Paul.

    I hardly think your accusation is a matter of semantics, since I believe adherence to the tenets of the Constitution hardly necessitates being a constitutional scholar (something I could probably be called, if you consider undergraduate and graduate concentration on it to be scholarship). However, if this really is the case, then we are all screwed…which seems to be closer and closer to reality these days no?

    You have focused intensely on the separation issue, which I consider an irrelevant litmus test for a federalist libertarian candidate who clearly has never brought religion into the campaign discourse, except in a few instances of being probed during the course of the campaign. Unfortunately for Congressman Paul, unlike almost all the other candidates, he actually put forth detailed written positions over the years…many of which I am sure were his best attempts to be a transparent representative. I am sure he is the first to admit his flaws in doing so.

    His reversal on the federal death penalty is one recent and, in my view, critical example of his capacity to see where he may have been wrong and reverse his position. His holding forth firm, detailed positions should not be confused in the slightest with hubris or self-righteousness. I have discovered enough about the man over the years to know otherwise.

    As to the religion issue generally, I think you should get beyond the trap of confusing a person’s faith or personal religious views with their capacity for fundamentalism in this regard. In my opinion fundamentalism in its extreme forms is found amongst all belief systems, not just religion. If you engage in a subtly anti-religious fundamentalism, are you any better than the religious zealots? Certainly anyone can justify their own fundamentalism with reference to their own chosen criteria. The fact that it is secular makes it no more valid.

    When it comes to government and the use of state power over humaniity I would sooner abide constitutional fundamentalism than the fundamentalism of those who see the role of government in our lives as limited only by their own sense of righteousness or so-called morality.

    While you may not abide what you have interpreted to be Ron Paul’s view of religion’s proper place vis-a-vis government, you miss the point that his entire thrust is to disempower and diffuse government’s role to the point that no one’s fundamentalism, secular or religious, can avail itself of the levers of power over all of us.

    I think Ron Paul summed it up best himself last night when he praised Barack Obama on many fronts, but distinguished himself as not sharing Obama’s obvious deference to a massive, unitary welfare state. In this sense he really highlights his candidacy as the ONLY one going that is truly one of systemic “change”, versus mere policy changes that only tweak the status quo system in service to a transitory political agenda.

    Anyway, I hope this gives you more of my perspective than would be consigned to “peer pressure”.

  12. Brian permalink
    January 6, 2008 3:02 pm

    See? That’s what I have been trying to say.

    Guess my career as a speech writer is fairly nipped-in-the-bud…

  13. January 7, 2008 8:58 am

    First, let me apologize for taking so long to repsond. It was a busy weekend.

    Thank you, Tyler, for the more robust response. I would like to start by saying that perpetuating the idea that I’m zeroing in on just religion is not exactly true. The original paper that I responded to was a religious-themed paper that showed a few major inconsistencies with what Rep. Paul though were the contents of our two most important heritage documents and the Founding Fathers views on Separation.

    Because of the the nature of what I was responding to and the odd occurrrence of the commentary actually staying pretty much on topic, I can see how it would seem that the religion thing was all I cared about, but that isn’t true. I’s simply what my posts were about.

    To very much summarize the point I was making (probably a bad thing to do, since folks might be asking me to repeat arguments and I hate that):

    * Ron Paul has made a huge error in the contents of the Constitution regarding religion.
    * Ron Paul has made a huge error in how he represented the writings of the Founding Fathers
    * Ron Paul believes in a Separation that does not provide all of the protection that has been supported throughout US history and upheld by the Courts

    Put together, these facts make me question his ability to understand the job, make educated decisions based on fact, or even have an understanding of our Nations inception that is unskewed by his religious beliefs. I mean, come on, it took me about 3 hours total to go through the Declaration, the Constitution, and just some of the writing of the Founding Fathers to find out that Re. Paul was flat-out wrong in his essay. He doesn’t have 3 hours to research our history?

    As to the Establishment issue, while I do understand that Rep. Paul would not support an amendment that defines marriage as one man one woman, because of his narrow view of Separation, he would also not support one that allowed gays to marry. He simply would say that it was the States job to legislate that and keep his hands out of it. At least, that’s how his views were presented to me by the RP supported that have commented here.

    Put that together with the fact that he is not unwilling to skew his beliefs into his interpretation of our history and founding documents, it paints a pisture to me of a candidate that I wouldn’t trust on an inssue that is very important to me, but also the incorrect interpretation of it causes our legislators to waste time on bills establishing the importance of Christmas or rewrites history with the religious skew.

    Call it a narrow view if you like, but the no-so-subtle incursion of religion into our legislation will affect everything that this country is meant to be.

    I think that’s about all I can say on this topic. I don’t want to seem like I’m picking on Rep. Paul by using him as an example, and I sure don’t like pissing people off. So, watch for my next post dealing with an atheist Nativity play that suggests that Jesus was the illegitimate son of Joseph’s brother, Kevin. Whoops, Mary!

  14. Tyler Nixon permalink
    January 7, 2008 12:35 pm

    So, to again clarify, one random essay by Rep. Paul is the foundation of your entire evaluation of his candidacy? Just making sure you I understand the extent of your research of his candidacy.

  15. January 7, 2008 1:09 pm

    Of course not, but it didn’t help the case of a candidate who I already saw with almost complete ambivalence.

    I have not made any decision about a candidate. If the election winds up being Paul v.s Clinton, Paul would have a a very good shot at my vote, but considering that he hasn’t inspired my support, and my recent digging into his knowledge of the Constitution, the Declaration, and the Faounding Fathers (three fairly important topics in this nations history), he does not currently have my support.

  16. Tyler Nixon permalink
    January 7, 2008 7:47 pm

    Did you happen to dig into how he spells “Faounding Fathers”? And what of the Faounding Mothers damnit?!?

  17. January 7, 2008 8:06 pm

    That’s Olde English, bitch! =P


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