Monday, November 5, 2007

Who Understood the 1st Amendment Better: James Madison or Justice Black?

Compare the following 2 quotes explaining the First Amendment. The first is by James Madison, who is regarded as the author of the Constitution and was instrumental in its wording. The 2nd is from the Everson decision in 1947. Notice how many specifics that Justice Black finds in the simple principle that Congress should not make a law establishing a religion. And one could wonder why the is so little attention paid to the other part of the religion clause (Congress may not prohibit the free exercise of religion).

In the words of James Madison, "The First Amendment was prompted because the people feared one sect might obtain preeminence, or two combine together and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform."

Justice Black in Everson: "The establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment means at least this: neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church; neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions whatever they may be called or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state.'"

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