The Original Reason for Religious Freedom in America

This topic may be a bit random, but it is quite applicable to the religious discussion that exists in America today. I first ran across this document while doing research for a college term paper. It was written by James Madison and entitled Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. James Madison is held, by virtually all hues along the political spectrum, to be the “Father of the Constitution.” Fathers are authorities, arbiters if you will. It follows that the words of Madison himself ought to be deferred to  in the church/state debates of American politics.

The reason for the Founders’ decision to separate the establishments of the church and the state has been a prevalent issue in America for most of it’s history.  Religious pluralists claim that religion was kept out of the state’s sphere because all religions are equal and that the Founders felt the same way. They cite the Treaty of Tripoli as the most obvious proof. On the other side are those that claim the Founders wanted Christianity as the state religion, and there were some men who vied for a Christian state during the country’s formative years.

The truth, the original reason for the separation of church and state can be found in the words of James Madison himself. Many of the Founders did claim some form of the Christian faith, but they did not seek to force that faith on anyone else. A forced faith is no faith, and they understood that if they were to force faith on citizens, it would either deceive them or alienate them. Such examples can be found in Rome, with the formal acceptance of Christianity as the state’s faith of choice. It resulted in hollow shells with Christian exteriors, showmen who, to borrow from Scripture, “took a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof.”

Madison had these historical examples in mind when he wrote that that a state-funded religion was to be avoided “because the policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity.” He understood that an established religion would be deleterious to both America and to the Christian faith. The faithless would think they had gained faith, but would not have a true faith; those with a true faith would eventually have that faith degraded by a “marriage” to the faithless. Madison stated very clearly that America was founded with no official religion, that the state would not fund a specific religion, because that religion (if it were true) would be undermined by its close association to a political state.

Madison and many other Founders believed that the best way for both Christianity and America to benefit was for Christianity to be treated the same as all other religions. Madison had such a belief in the superiority, the truth that Christianity proclaimed, that he had no doubts  it’s light would shine as the brightest of any religion; when set on an equal plain, the teachings of Christ would be proved as being right and true. Granted, it takes a good amount of faith to be willing to make such a claim.

Maybe the Christianity of today should not focus on the difficulties it faces, but rather on the opportunities that it has been given in America. Yes, times are different than they were 200 years ago, but no one would deny that America still presents the greatest freedom of religion anywhere on earth. Hopefully this thought will cause us to evaluate our faith and take the necessary measures to make it’s light shine in this great country, where it has no hindrance.


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