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88: THE DOCUMENTS IN THE CASE

#88: THE DOCUMENTS IN THE CASE. “Union of religious sentiments begets a surprising confidence, and ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption; all of which facilitates the execution of mischievous projects,” wrote James Madison in 1774. Among the livelier efforts of the religious right’s mischievous projects has been the retroactive assertion of the United States as a “Christian nation”—Christian not by statistical affiliation but by legal establishment. The project has only been able to go forward with a kind of intellectual shoddiness, disregard for historical fact and plain deceit that a decade or two ago would have been considered incredible. But ignorance and corruption, like the poor, are always with us. (Please keep in mind that Madison was not some Satanic card-playing heathen but a post-graduate student of theology at Princeton, under John Witherspoon.) So information is what’s needed, and Forrest Church’s splendid and too-little-known anthology The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders (Beacon Press, 2004) can be your reference, your inspirational reading and your handful of aces in an argument. If your debaters are too little impressed by the words of Washington, John Adams, Jefferson and Madison, hit them with the ministerial insistences of (Norwich-born) Isaac Backus, John Leland or Caleb William. Then slam-dunk them with the Senate-ratified, John Adams-autographed eleventh article of the Treaty of Tripoli: “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” Actually and interestingly, Church reminds us that on the issue of liberty of conscience there was a collaboration between men who “stressed freedom from the dictates of organized religion” and those who “demanded freedom for religion.” Facts these days may not win an argument—were we talking about ignorance and corruption?—but here they are if you want ‘em, in one pocket-sized and well-printed volume.

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