Two years ago, I started writing a book about my “Atheism”, I wanted it to be comprehensive and cover some of the more important topics such as the Founding Fathers. I was intrigued by Thomas Jefferson and have spent over a year reading about him, his history and in many cases, his own writing. I started listening to “The Jefferson Hour” podcast in which Clay Jenkins plays the part of Thomas Jefferson as if he was being interviewed today. I definitely recommend listening to it!
It was in my research of Thomas Jefferson that James Madison came into play. Some of you may know my favorite Jefferson quote is “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”(6) While I am amazed at Jefferson’s wisdom, I am equally amazed about Madison’s wisdom.
When it comes to religious freedom, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison went so far as to spell it out in the Virginia Statue For Religious Liberty(4).
Be it enacted by General Assembly 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.
In 1789, James Madison got the ball rolling on amending the constitution (see note 1 below) in a speech he gave to the House of Representatives. In that speech, he made it pretty clear that there was separation and that we have a right of conscience. (2 for full discussion on the amendment)
“Fourthly. That in article 1st, section 9, between clauses 3 and 4, be inserted these clauses, to wit: “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner or on any pretext infringed.”
It was debated for wording but there you can see the intent of the amendment.
Madison was strongly against the establishment of religion and in favor of separation and in fact penned anonymously a letter against a bill being considered in congress called “A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion”, Thanks to his “Memorial And Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (3). this bill failed.
Because the proposed establishment is a departure from that generous policy, which, offering an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre to our country, and an accession to the number of its citizens.(3)
If you had any doubts about Separation, you may want to read Madison’s “Detached Memorandum” (4)
Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?
In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation.
The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the chaplains elected [by the majority] shut the door of worship agst the members whose creeds & consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. To say nothing of other sects, this is the case with that of Roman Catholics & Quakers who have always had members in one or both of the Legislative branches. Could a Catholic clergyman ever hope to be appointed a Chaplain? To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the evil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers. or that the major sects have a right to govern the minor.
In the links I have provided, there is definitely references to “God” so we know the country was not devoid of God. I find this was done similar to a backhanded compliment “Chris(t) is a totally awesome guy but Government needs to be separate”. The founders understood that the majority was Christian and they did not want to commit political suicide, so they worded things carefully. Praising the “Creator” while stating he would not factor into Governmental matters. Truth be told, when the English and Spanish came to our country, it was, in part, to spread their brand of Christianity, especially to the Indians. When that didn’t work out, we all know the suffering the Indians experienced. The fact of the matter, Separation and the Establishment clause came about due to infighting with the different sects of the Christian religion. Our Founding Fathers did not want to become intangled with the infighting between Protestants, Catholics, Baptists, Puritan, Angelicans..etc.
Are we a Christian Nation? Well, a group called the NRA (National Reform Association) attempted to change the preamble of our Constitution in 1863 to include the words “God” and Jesus Christ”, Abraham Lincoln basically placated them while the bill died. For years, the National Reform Association attempted to change the preamble(7) but each time the bill failed or was simply ignored. This should have been a shoe in, if our Government considered itself to be a Christian Nation.
I cannot believe, in this day and age, this needs to be debated. We are a country that is made up of many different religions and many different beliefs. Why must there still be infighting between different beliefs? It is crazy, that even I, who has become accepting of everyone, still feels persecuted by religious folks who claim their religion is the best! …and while being good Christians, bash me over the head for being a theistical atheist 🙂 I wrote a blog “Am I the Problem” to admit that sometimes I have such strong opinions that people do not agree with…but if you cannot accept the Separation or that other people have different beliefs then you, then, maybe YOU are the problem!
(I reread my blog after it was posted and it went through so many different edits that ended up going through it again and clarifying some items.)