'Tis Time To Part:
Renovating the Wall of Separation Between Church & State

by Joshua Cherniss

(Originally published in the Yale Journal of Ethics, Spring, 1998).

The guarantee of religious freedom and the separation of church and state
contained in the First Amendment of the Constitution epitomize, in the
words of Leo Pfeffer, "a radical experiment unique in human history." (1)
And yet the exact meaning of the words is unclear, and the fate of that
experiment uncertain.

The problem of church and state, of religion in public life, is one of the
most basic, most durable, and most divisive conflicts we face today.  For
all of the secularization and liberalization of society, religion
continues to be a driving force in people's beliefs and behavior.  In our
own times, in our own country, religion has lost none of its inspiring and
disruptive power.  It has not, as some critics of American society have
claimed, receded from the public sphere, scorned by secularists, mourned
by the virtuous, and ignored by the majority.  It is present everywhere,
and both sustains our societies and threatens our liberties.

Although religion and the clergy no longer have the same majestic
authority or ability to dominate the national stage as they did in the
days of Martin Luther King, Jr., religious and quasi-religious leaders and
communities remain central to most social reform movements.  At the same
time, religiously motivated resentment, intolerance, and paranoia
increasingly dominate our politics.  One need only look to the domination
of the Republican Party by the religiously motivated, ultra-conservative
pressure groups collectively known as the Religious Right.  There is a
certain irony in this: for these same forces who play such a high-profile
role in politics based on their appeals to religion complain that modern
American society is godless and depraved.  Yet theirs is a difficult
contention to prove, when they themselves hold so much power, when many
states continue to bar atheists from holding public office, and when
homosexuals and other "deviants" are constantly the victims of
discrimination, condemnation, humiliation, and even violence.

The power of religion, and the dangerous consequences of that power, makes
its place in a pluralistic democracy a question of great urgency and
complexity.  As it has done in the cases of other such divisive and
potentially disruptive issues, our system of government has resorted to
the instruments of law to simplify the complexities and diffuse the
dangers of this question.  However, as is often the case, the institutions
of law have not been able to confine or control the ethical issues at
stake.  Instead, the law itself has become a battleground, where
proponents of different philosophies and different ways of life fight to
impose their views and visions on society.

In this conflict, the Supreme Court has often used its power to maintain a
separation between religion and government.  In doing so, it has
constantly appealed to the principle of a "wall of separation" between
church and state, subscribed to by the Framers of the Constitution and
expressed by Thomas Jefferson.  The phrase itself, which has been cited in
court opinion after court opinion, comes from a letter written by
Jefferson in 1802, and addressed to the Baptist Association of Danbury,
Connecticut.  However, a controversial recent monograph claims that
Jefferson's words were less an unadulterated declaration of principle than
a canny political move, an attempt to gain support in an election year.

The monograph is entitled "Religion and the Founding of the American
Republic."  Its author is James H. Hutson, the chief of the Library of
Congress's manuscript division.  Hutson writes that Jefferson did not
intend the letter to be used as a foundation of law or as a statement of
his governing philosophy.  Instead, Hutson claims, an analysis of the
original manuscript of the letter, and especially the way Jefferson
revised the letter, tailoring it for its audience, shows that the letter
was intended to win support from New England constituents.  Leaders of the
Religious Right have seized this opportunity to once again claim that the
Founders intended America to be a Christian nation; that the idea of
complete church-state separation is an invention of modern left-liberalism
with no authoritative basis in American tradition; and that all of the
Supreme Court rulings that employ Jefferson's phrase about the wall of
separation are invalid because the phrase was political rhetoric.

In response, a group of scholars of church-state issues have released a
letter criticizing Hutson's thesis -- and, indeed, Hutson himself, in
attacks that are at times distressingly personal and ad hominem. (2)
Hutson should, in fact, be thanked, regardless of the accuracy of his
thesis: he has opened up an important historiographical debate, and
mobilized a number of very fine scholars to reconsider the basis of the
principle of church-state separation in American history.  Placing
Jefferson's words at the center of a substantive debate over ideas and
principles, rather than using them as mere fodder for rhetoric, is an
important first step to pursuing the sort of discussion about church and
state we need to have, in order to understand the true meaning, importance
and desirability of "the wall of separation between church and state."


It is unfortunate that the courts have based so much precedent upon this
quotation, and understandable that the Religious Right are now placing
such emphasis on it: for reliance on the quotation as the epitome of the
Founders' views on religion leads to the neglect of their clearest and
most significant writings on this topic.  Although scholars quibble over a
single phrase, none of them can seriously deny that Jefferson's own
religious views are clear: he was a deist who believed in a creator-god
perceivable through human reason, and rejected the validity of the Bible
and of organized religion. (3)  For instance, in a letter to Benjamin Rush
in 1800, Jefferson wrote: "They (the clergy) believe that any portion of
power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes.  And
they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal
hostility against any form of tyranny over the mind of man." (4)

Jefferson also likened the story of Jesus's conception to the myths of
ancient Greece, and looked forward to a day when it would no longer
believed, and when reason would triumph over superstition as the guide to
religious belief.  Furthermore, he declared that the clergy were
invariably hostile to liberty, and equated priestcraft with bigotry.  It
is easy to see why many of his opponents attacked Jefferson as an atheist;
and it is difficult to imagine a politician today attacking organized
religion the way Jefferson did. (5)

These religious beliefs were part of the same Enlightenment belief in
human reason upon which Jefferson based his political thought.  Indeed,
Jefferson's political, ethical, and religious convictions were
inseparable; they were also more radical than many of his more
conservative admirers care to admit.  Many have, for instance, pointed to
the opening of the Declaration of Independence, which declares that all
men are endowed with equal rights by a "Creator," as proof that the
philosophy of the Founders was based on theism.  However, Jefferson's
original draft says that all men "derive rights inherent and inalienable"
as a result of "that equal creation." (6)  In other words, Jefferson
himself deliberately avoided mentioning God, going so far as to commit the
sin of awkward phrasing.

He also bases his argument for inalienable rights not on theism, but
egalitarianism: it is as a result of men's being created equal that they
have these rights, not the result of the special favor of a god who
conforms to the traditional conception of divinity.  Once again, the
Religious Right are selective in their use of history: they harp on the
changes made in the drafting of Jefferson's Danbury letter (the
implications of which are obscure), while neglecting to address the
changes made to Jefferson's draft of the Declaration.

To understand Jefferson's views on politics and religion, it is necessary
to understand the intellectual climate out of which his ideas emerged.
Jefferson, in his deism, his faith in reason, and his belief in natural
rights, liberty, and democracy, was a typical thinker of the
Enlightenment.  The three thinkers whom Jefferson himself said were the
greatest influences in his life were also the intellectual fathers of the
Enlightenment: Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke. (7)  The
latter was probably the most influential political thinker in colonial
America.  Jefferson's words and arguments in the Declaration often
paraphrased Locke.  From Locke Jefferson and his contemporaries derived
the idea of natural rights -- that is, rights that were inherent to the
individual purely by virtue of his or her humanity -- among which was
freedom of conscience; and the social contract theory, which held that
governments ultimately derived their authority from a contractual
agreement between the governors and the governed, and therefore come
after, and must respect, natural rights.

Locke's view of the nature and origins of the church was similar to that
of the state: he believed that a church is "a voluntary society of men,
joining themselves together of their own accord."  On the other hand, he
viewed their functions as being completely different: the state is for the
advancement of people's civil interests, while the church is dedicated to
saving their souls.  In short, religion by its nature lies outside civil
society, and those who presume to regulate religion overstep their powers
by violating the natural rights to freedom of conscience.  This idea was
later extended by Jefferson and Madison, and form the basis for their
beliefs, and writings, on the role of the state in religion and vice
versa. (8)  Indeed, many of the colonists, and most of the founders,
generally agreed with Tom Paine when he wrote that government should
essentially protect every individual's freedom of conscience, and then
butt out of religious life.  Jefferson definitely shared these views.

Throughout his life Jefferson sought to put his own radical version of
Locke's ideas into practice.  His battle began in Virginia in the 1770s,
when he fought to disestablish the Episcopal Church by denying public
funds to the clergy. (9)  However, he soon went beyond this strategy.  On
June 13, 1779 Jefferson drafted and proposed "A Bill for Establishing
Religious Freedom."  The bill was so controversial that passage was
delayed until 1786, when Madison was finally able to push his friend's
legislation through.  As with the writings quoted above, Jefferson's views
about this bill and the principles it embodies are absolutely clear and
definite.  He regarded it as one of the greatest achievements of his life.
Before he died, he requested that he be referred to on his tombstone as
the author of this bill, and of the Declaration.  Jefferson placed this
bill, which became a model for the entire nation, on par with one of the
two most revered documents in American history.

In the bill, Jefferson first declares that God has "created the mind free"
and that all attempts to restrain it, to lead it to conclusions against
its will or natural inclinations will lead to hypocrisy and meanness. (10)
Both civil and ecclesiastical authorities, being human and fallible, have
neither the right nor the authority to interfere with the workings of
divinely endowed individual reason.  These authorities, Jefferson insists,
by seeking to turn their own mistaken views into official doctrine, and to
force this doctrine onto others, "hath established and maintained false
religions over the greatest part of the world."  Furthermore, it is
"sinful and tyrannical" to compel any individual to "furnish contributions
of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves or abhors."
It is thus a violation of individual rights and freedom for the government
to give money to support religion.

Jefferson also asserts that "our civil rights have no dependence on our
religious opinions...and therefore proscribing any citizen as unworthy the
public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to
offices of trust or emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that
religious opinion, is depriving him...of those privileges and advantages
to which...he has a natural right."  So much for the ban on atheists
holding public office found in the ledgers of so many states today.

Jefferson is not concerned only about the rights of the individual; he is
also concerned about the effects that civil power has on religion.  He
believes that this sort of power corrupts religion itself, by making those
who do not truly believe it conform to it in order to acquire wealth and
power.  Religion becomes a means to an end, piety a mask that the
power-hungry must cynically wear and manipulate for profit and

Jefferson goes on to say "the opinions of men are not the object of civil
government, or under its jurisdiction."  Jefferson believes that the
states should have no role in religious debates, both because it violates
the proper boundaries between government and the individual, and because
the discovery of the truth depends upon an open contest of ideas.
Governmental intervention into religious and moral debates, rather than
upholding truth and morality, will ultimately damage them by hardening
them into dogma.

Based on these beliefs, Jefferson prohibits the state from interfering
with individuals' expression or observance of their beliefs in any way,
either by compelling them to accept or observe doctrines and practices in
which they do not believe, or by prohibiting them from, or punishing them
for, the observances and opinions that they do believe.  Jefferson then
concludes that the rights he has asserted are "the natural rights of

It should be clear that the belief in a secular state, in which the power
of religion was minimized and education and reason were emphasized as the
keys to truth, liberty and happiness, was central to Jefferson's view of
human society and morality.  However, this does not prove that this vision
is embodied in the First Amendment.  Indeed, there is something strange
about the emphasis placed on Jefferson's views in debates over the
original meaning of the Constitution.  After all, Jefferson was in France
during the drafting of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and played
no direct role in the creation or ratification of either (although his
advocacy of a Bill of Rights was influential).  Those who discuss this
issue would do far better to focus their attention on James Madison, "the
father of the Constitution," who in addition to being the intellectual
leader of the Constitutional Convention and the author of the most
important defenses and explications of the Constitution in the Federalist
papers, was also responsible for drafting and proposing the Bill of


Jefferson was not alone in his beliefs about church and state.  The
Founders were almost all deeply influenced by the liberal thought of John
Locke and the thinkers of the French and Scottish Enlightenment.  Many of
them, if not most, believed that religion was a purely private matter and
should be kept out of the public, political sphere, and thus must be
separated from the state. (11)  Madison said that government has no
"jurisdiction" over religion. (12)  This was why religion was left out of
the Constitution: its authors, though almost all sincere Christians,
believed that it had no place there, or in any other pronouncement of
public policy or governance.

While many held this view, few were as devoted to it as was Madison, whose
battle to keep religion out of government and vice versa spanned his
entire political career, which in turn spanned over half a century.  Out
of this tireless support came some of the most inspiring, powerful and
plainly stated writing on religion and public life in modern history.
Madison's crowning achievement in his campaign for the separation of
religion and the state was his Memorial and Remonstrance of 1785.

Madison's first effort in this direction was in his drafting of amendments
to the Bill of Rights of the Virginia Constitution in 1776.  These
amendments, according to Marvin Meyers, "helped to place religious liberty
on the foundation not of toleration but of natural right." (13)  However,
his greatest contribution to the debate over church and state was his
writing the aforementioned "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious
Assessments" in 1785.  This document is one of the most brilliant analyses
of church-state relations, and one of the most forceful and eloquent
defenses of complete separation, in American history.  Although it employs
many of the same arguments as Jefferson's bill, quoted above, it is
ultimately more convincing.  And, since its author was also the author of
the First Amendment, it has a special authority as a statement of the
principles underlying the Constitution.

In 1784 Patrick Henry, emboldened by public expressions of dismay and
disapproval in response to a perceived decay of public morals, sought to
reverse Jefferson and Madison's legislation denying public funding to the
Episcopal Church.  In response, Madison drafted and circulated his
"Memorial and Remonstrance." (14)  Madison claimed that the public funding
of "Teachers of the Christian Religion" was "a dangerous abuse of power"
which violated "the great Barrier which defends the rights of people" --
that is, the barrier between church and state. (15)  Those who violated
this barrier were "Tyrants"; those who submitted to this tyranny were
"slaves." (16)

Madison's defense of that barrier rests on a compelling and sometimes
surprising blend of the ideals of the Enlightenment with respect for
religion and concern for its welfare.  Madison's attacks on
state-sponsored or state-controlled religion would scandalize many modern
conservatives, but his argument is not that of a glib secularist.  Madison
takes religion very seriously, and it is because of this that he is so
ardently opposed to religion and the state being combined in any way.

Madison makes arguments based on a concern for the interests of religion
itself, for the state, and for individuals.  In the first item of the
Remonstrance, Madison asserts that "The Religion...of every man must be
left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of
every man to exercise it as these may dictate...the opinions of men,
depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot
follow the dictates of other men."  Madison maintains that the right to
freedom of conscience should not be abridged by civil society, since it is
an inalienable individual right, and that its deeply private nature makes
it "exempt" from civil society's "cognizance." (17)  A bill that gave
civil authority control over what was regarded as religious truth not only
threatens liberty, but the authority of religion itself; for such a bill
"implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent judge of
religious truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil
policy.  The first is an arrogant pretension...the second is an unhallowed
perversion of the means of salvation." (18)

Furthermore, experience has shown that "ecclesiastical establishments,
instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have a
contrary operation."  The legal establishment of Christianity in Europe,
for instance, had bred "pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and
servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
The establishment of religion may serve the self-interest of the clergy
and the prejudices of zealots; but it will cause a corruption of religion,
which all truly God-fearing people should recognize, abhor and avoid. (19)

In the case of the state and of public life, Madison notes that "attempts
to enforce by legal sanctions, acts obnoxious to...[a] great proportion of
Citizens, tend to enervate the laws in general, and to slacken the bands
of society." (20)  Madison combines this typically "conservative" belief
in the importance of law and order with a "liberal" conception of what the
state and society should be like.  He wishes to "hold forth an asylum to
the persecuted."  The establishment of religion "is itself a signal of
persecution" which "degrades from equal rank of Citizens all those whose
opinions in Religion do not bend to those of the Legislative authority."
Madison is quite serious about this point, as he makes clear in his next
sentence.  "Distant as it may be, in its present form, from the
Inquisition it differs from it only in degree.  The one is the first step,
the other the last in the career of intolerance." (22)

Beyond these arguments, Madison appeals to what he regards as some of the
first principles of government.  Establishment of religion violates both
individual rights, and "that equality which ought to be the basis of every
law...Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and
to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot
deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the
evidence that has convinced us.  If this freedom is abused, it is an
offense against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to men, must
an account of it be rendered."

Madison returns to the idea that establishment is a violation of a higher
law near the end of the Remonstrance.  In this case, the higher law is
that of natural human rights.  There is a conflict between these rights
and state power; we must side with one or the other, "we must say, that
the will of the legislature is the only measure of their authority; and
that in the plenitude of that authority, they may sweep away all our
fundamental rights; or, that they are bound to leave this particular right
untouched and sacred."  The conflict does not concern religion and
secularism so much as it does the limits of government power.  Central to
the American system of government, and the liberal principles that
inspired it, is the belief that there are fundamental human rights that
should always be protected, and that in order to do so the power of the
government must be limited.  The separation of church and state is a vital
part of this; if the government is given power to involve itself in
religious matters, and to curb religious liberty, what is to prevent it
from violating other basic liberties? (23)

This is why Madison bound religious liberty -- and the separation of
church and state -- together with other fundamental liberties in the First
Amendment: all were equally important to him, and he believed that all
were inter-dependent.  The duty of the government with regard to religion
was to protect "every citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the
same equal hand which protects his person and his property...neither
invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade
those of another." (24)

Madison was aware of the argument that a little state support of religion
isn't such a bad thing -- that a simple, ecumenical prayer or funding of
religious schools or charities is innocuous and even beneficial.  Madison
did not accept this argument.  He warned his contemporaries, and warns us
today, "to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties.  We hold
this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens...Who does not see
that the same authority which can establish Christianity...may establish
with the same ease any particular set of Christians...That the same
authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his
property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to
conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?" (25)

Madison's call for religious freedom and disestablishment was successful:
as copies of the Remonstrance, with long lists of signatures appended,
flooded the General Assembly of Virginia, the Assembly finally enacted
Jefferson's Bill for Religious Liberty. (26)

The drafting of both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights reflected the
secularism of the Founders.  God was deliberately excluded from the
Constitution.  No prayers were said for over a month (in contrast to the
normal practice in the Continental Congress), and the Founders carefully
avoided any mention of God in the text of the document, excluding even a
deistic reference to a "creator."  Madison himself expressed his
intentions, and those of many others, when he said that the Constitution
was not to create "a shadow of right in the general government to
intermingle with religion." (27)

This intent was made explicit in the last clause of Article VI: "no
religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or
public trust under the United States."  This clause was introduced in
order to "cut off forever every pretense of any alliance between church
and state in the national government," according to Joseph Story, one of
the first commentators on the Constitution, a distinguished and
influential Supreme Court Justice -- and, in general, an opponent of
church-state separation who nevertheless voiced the understanding at the
time that this part of the Constitution did, indeed, go some way towards
erecting a wall of separation. (28)

Madison's writings about the idea of a Bill of Rights reveal much not only
of his views on the subject of church and state, but of the basic
political philosophy (or, rather, political morality) upon which our
system of government is based.  Ironically, one of Madison's most
important statements about the importance, meaning and purpose of a Bill
of Rights can be found in the letter to Jefferson in which he explains his
reservations about the adoption of such a document.

Madison's two major objections to a Bill of Rights were that it would be
ineffective and that by enumerating some rights it would be limiting by
seeming to exclude others.  Madison was worried that "a positive
declaration of some of the most essential rights could not be obtained in
the requisite latitude" in a bill that would be stamped by the popular
will.  Madison was "sure that the rights of conscience in particular, if
submitted to public definition, would be narrowed" by putting their
enumeration to popular vote. (29)

Madison believed, as he wrote to Jefferson, that "Wherever the real power
in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression."  Madison saw
that in a democratic or republican form of government the power would
reside in "the majority of the community," and that this majority would
use the government to invade "private rights." (30)  Madison also wrote,
"Wherever there is an interest and power to do wrong, wrong will generally
be done." (31)  Madison's political philosophy was based on a combination
of a liberal belief in the primacy of individual rights, and the
importance of preserving a private sphere, with a more cautious and
conservative distrust of majorities, of power in general and, indeed, of
human nature itself.  Although he remained skeptical about the efficacy of
"parchment barriers" he did see one way of using legislation to foster
freedom and curb the corrupting influences of power.  Madison hoped that
the "political truths declared in that solemn manner [i.e., in the Bill of
Rights]" would "acquire by degrees the character of fundamental maxims of
free Government, and as they become incorporated with the National
sentiment, counteract the impulses of interest and passion." (32)

In Madison's view, the success or failure of a liberal form of government
depends on public morality.  Such a form of government, while it refrains
from intervening in the judgments and actions of citizens in a wide range
of moral issues that are part of the private sphere, is not amoral.  It is
not just a matter of political institutions, but of ethical ideas and
beliefs; and the people's acceptance of and dedication to these beliefs is
ultimately the strongest defense against corruption and oppression.

Thus, keeping church and state separate for their mutual well being
requires more than the erection of legal barriers.  It also makes a
difficult demand upon the people, that they be tolerant and respectful
towards one another, and that they exercise self-restraint and fairness in
not trying to force their beliefs on one another.  In this way, liberal
government, and the idea of church-state separation, are not examples (as
many members of the Religious Right claim) of moral laxity.  On the
contrary, they make ethical and emotional demands on individuals and the
community that many, especially the Religious Right, find it difficult to
live up to.  The conflict, then, is not between morality and amorality,
but between two conflicting and rigorous moralities.  My goal here is not
to argue that the liberal morality is superior to its opponent, but to
show that it is the morality upon which our system of government is based,
and that if we reject it we also reject the insights of our political
ancestors and put their -- and our -- experiment in freedom at risk.

The fact that separation of church and state was a matter of principle --
that it was based on a certain theory of political morality -- is
necessary to understanding Madison's intentions, actions, and
contributions.  Madison expressed his personal views on the issue of
religion and the state in a letter to the Rev. Jasper Adams, in 1832.
This was no political maneuver: Madison was retired from public life, and
only a few years away from death.  It is also not at all ambiguous.
Madison acknowledges the problem of the relationship between church and
state, admitting that "it may not be easy, in every possible case, to
trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil
authority with such directness as to avoid collisions & doubts on
unessential points."  However, rather than being an argument for blurring
the line between the two, Madison sees this fact as all the more reason
for separating them: "The tendency to a usurpation on one side or the
other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best
guarded against by an entire abstinence of the Government from
interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving
public order, & protecting each sect against trespass on its legal rights
by others." (34)

In this statement of his philosophy, the drafter of the First Amendment
clearly argues for a secular state.  This argument is based on two
assumptions: the belief, central to liberal thought, that there must exist
a line between public and private if liberty is to be preserved and the
happiness and full development of humanity to be ensured, and that the
state should play a minimal part in the private affairs of citizens; and
the belief, historical in its base and religious in its inspiration, that
church and state are mutually corrupting forces.  The two beliefs are
closely parallel: one sees the blurring of the lines between public and
private, and the other, between religion and state, as being dangerous to
both.  Indeed, the second premise is a development of the first, and it is
in developing and employing it that Madison revealed the profundity of his


The belief in separation of church and state is clearly central to the
liberal political and ethical convictions of the Founders.  The principle
of individual liberty, and especially freedom of conscience, born out of a
century of conflict with religious tyranny, persecution and censorship;
the conviction, founded upon a careful, comprehensive and contemplative
reading of history, that power corrupts, and therefore that in order to
prevent the corruption of both government and religion, their powers must
be carefully circumscribed; the distinction, so novel and so essential,
between public and private spheres, and the insistence that to violate
this distinction in either direction was to violate a part of what makes
men and women human and what makes society just; these were the
foundations of the American experiment in government, at once bold and
cautious, idealistic and realistic.  These views were not anti-religious;
rather they wished to protect religion from corruption and abuse, and
ensure the religious liberty of all.  Nor did they insist on moral
neutrality in public life.  On the contrary, they rest and insist upon a
public morality that is at once tolerant and stringent, liberal and
severely demanding.

It is these humane and wise principles, and not those of any sectarian
religion or divinely inspired dogma, that are currently endangered in our
society, and that we must defend.  If we are to defend the open society to
which the Founders and their successors were dedicated, we must reaffirm
the Madisonian belief, that separation of church and state benefits not
only the state, but also religion, that it is desirable and beneficial to
the good not only of the public body, but also of the individual soul.


1.  Leo Pfeffer, Church and State Freedom.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1967, p.
2.  Goodstein, Laurie, "Fresh Debate on 1802 Jefferson Letter," New York
Times, Sept. 10, 1998, p. A20.

3.  Most of the founders were, according to Charles and Mary Beard,
deists.  Jefferson, Franklin, and Tom Paine certainly were; John Adams,
George Washington and James Madison all remained nominally Christian, but
exhibited leanings towards deism or Unitarianism.  See Pfeffer, p. 104.

4.  The original of this letter is, incidentally, also in the Library of
Congress's collection.  When a scholar studied Jefferson's original
handwriting in THIS letter he found that Jefferson, in contrast to the
general practice of his time, had spelled "god" with a small "g",
suggesting that he rejected the Christian conception of God in favor of
the more hesitant deistic belief in an impersonal deity.  Oddly enough,
the Religious Right has not made as much of this example of textual
analysis as they have of Hutson's.  Quoted in George Seldes, The Great
Thoughts, New York: Ballantine, 1985, p. 208.

5.  The views described are summaries of the contents of Jefferson's
letters quoted by Seldes, pp. 207-8.

6.  Ibid., p. 206.

7.  Ibid., p. 248.  Jefferson said of these three "they were my trinity of
the greatest men the world had ever produced."

8.  Pfeffer, pp. 101-103.

9.  Marvin Meyers.  The Mind of the Founder: Sources of the Political
Thought of James Madison.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1973, p. 8.

10.  This, and all other quotations from the Bill for Establishing
Religious Freedom, are taken from the reprint of the Bill in Saul K.
Padover, ed. The Complete Jefferson.  New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce,

1943, pp. 946-947.

11.  Pfeffer, p. 124.

12.  Ibid., p. 128.

13.  Meyers, p. 8.

14.  Idem.

15.  Ibid., p. 9.

16.  Ibid., p. 10.

17.  Ibid., p. 9.

18.  Ibid., p. 11.

19.  Ibid., p. 12.

20.  Ibid., p. 15.

21.  Ibid., p. 13.

22.  Ibid., p. 11.

23.  Ibid., p. 16.

24.  Ibid., p. 13.

25.  Ibid., p. 10.

26.  Ibid., p. 8.

27.  Ibid., p. 122.  Emphasis added.

28.  Ibid., p. 123.

29.  Meyers, The Mind of the Founder, pp. 205-206.

30.  Ibid., p. 206.

31.  Ibid., p. 207.

32.  Idem.

33.  Wilson, p. 87.

34.  Wilson, p. 78.

(End of article by Joshua Cherniss, originally published in the Yale
Journal of Ethics, Spring, 1998.)

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