Saturday, November 14, 2009

James Madison Speaks on the Bill of Rights

James Madison is often called the Father of the Constitution because we was the chief craftsman of its words. Certainly he must have had a clear understanding of the intentions of the other Founding Fathers.

We debate today what was meant by Jefferson when he used to phrase "separation of church and state" to refer to the First Amendment of the Constitution (several years after the Amendments were ratified). I have pointed out that Jefferson used the phrase "freedom of religion" most times when speaking of the importance of the First Amendment. Now let's look at Madison's thoughts during the debate on the Bill of Rights. The following is from an article on the National Archives site titled "Religion and the Founding Fathers." (Boldface added for emphasis.)

Many Americans agreed with the freemen of Paxton, Massachusetts, that the Constitution, by its failure to explicitly guarantee the freedom of religion, was "Subversive of Liberty and Extreamly dangerous to the Civil and Religious rights of the People." Speaking for Antifederalists, Patrick Henry argued in the Virginia ratifying Convention that the "sacred and lovely thing Religion, ought not to rest on the ingenuity of logical deduction." Without an explicit protection, religion "will be prostituted to the lowest purposes of human policy." Federalists, however, argued that the Constitution would create a Federal government of strictly enumerated powers that would never be capable of violating religious liberty. According to James Madison in the Virginia Convention, there was "not a shadow of right in the General Government to intermeddle with religion-- Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation." Furthermore, with the "multiplicity of sects" throughout America, Madison asserted that no one sect "could oppress and persecute the rest."

That seems clearer that the vague metaphor "separation of church and state" The government is not able to meddle ("intermeddle") with religion in any way. And he says in the last sentence above that the government may not aid one sect in oppressing the rest. That's what Jefferson meant by "separation of church and state" and is also in keeping with the idea of "freedom of religion."

Read the whole article here.

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