Madison’s argument 9

Was the Republic of the United States created as a Christian nation?

Warren Throckmorton, in a Townhall article here, asks a question more precisely focused but essentially the same: “Did the first amendment create a Christian nation?”

His answer is no. He explains:

Most states had established Christian denominations in the years before the passage of the Constitution but two states did not, Rhode Island and Virginia. Virginia, the home of Madison and Jefferson, is the most relevant to what would become the First Amendment. In 1786, Madison succeeded in shepherding religious freedom protections through the Virginia legislature that in his words, “have in this country extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind.”

Unfortunately not forever. “Hate crimes” are laws for the human mind. And they are entirely unnecessary. Those who commit them are either committing a crime, in which case they should be prosecuted regardless of what emotion accompanied it, or they did not, in which case the law should disregard them, hate though they might.

Still, what Madison did achieve was great and lasting – at least until now.

The law that gave Madison his ebullient hope was the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, which reads in part:

“Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

According to Thomas Jefferson, who had no small hand in the matter,some Virginia legislators wanted to direct the act toward Christianity by inserting Jesus Christ into a section of the Preamble. Jefferson’s account makes clear the extent of the freedom of expression which the Virginia legislature affirmed:

“The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Islam], the Hindoo [Hinduism], and Infidel of every denomination.”

So Jefferson allowed a “holy author of our religion” to haunt the law, but managed to exclude naming it Jesus Christ. It seems most of the legislators had some notion that “Jew, Gentile, Christian, Mahometan and Hindoo ” all shared a belief in such a being. If so, they were mistaken of course. And whether Jefferson himself believed in it no one can be certain.

Jefferson and Madison sought to get the state out of the business of “making laws for the human mind.” In so doing …  Madison and Jefferson moved Virginia, and later the nation away from a national religion. …

Virginia moved away from having one of the most solidly established churches all the way to join little Rhode Island on the side of full religious liberty and the separation of church and state.

Madison followed up his success in Virginia with a proposed amendment to the Constitution in 1789 covering religious expression:

“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.”

Through debate, Madison’s language was modified to the current First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Madison’s work in Virginia and his original proposal make clear that freedom of religious expression is an individual right and not meant for adherents of a particular religion, namely Christianity.

The First Amendment forbids federal laws which interfere with a citizen’s free expression of religion and the Fourteenth Amendment extends the prohibition to the states.

Madison argued that Christianity itself supported the broad tolerance he was enshrining. Whether he was using the argument purely to achieve his end, or sincerely believed that Christianity was as tolerant as he was painting it, remains unknowable. The point is, it worked. He persuaded the people he needed to persuade.

He put it this way – explaining to the Virginia Assembly why they should not vote funds for teachers of Christianity:

“The establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence.”

With that he must have have sounded like a true believer, which he needed the Assembly to be convinced he was.

If he really was as firm a believer as he sounded then, it is all the more remarkable that he worked and pleaded so persistently and skillfully for the greatest possible tolerance of all religious belief and (by implication) none.  Or to put it another way: either he was an extraordinarily broad-minded Christian, or he was an extraordinarily persuasive non-believer. It matters not which, since he achieved the end which did matter and continues to matter – the absence of a national religion.

But now the freedom of conscience and belief that Madison bequeathed to the nation is under threat from “the Mahometan”.  Muslims whose freedom of religion he ensured, are exploiting the tolerance he enshrined, in order to destroy it.

  • Guest

    The thought of banning Religion scares the majority of Atheist because they see it in conclusion as an attack on Individual human rights. The right to think the unthinkable. But if we site the ban on Smoking as example, there we have a model which we can safely pursue. The Public practice of smoking is restricted, yet the individual can still indulge in private or in a controlled fashion. I don’t see any difference with Religion being banned – publically, but still unrestricted in private. Maybe, then, indeed the thought of it as socially unacceptable will become the norm.

  • Guest

    Muslims don’t know what logic is : – ban Islam along with Christianity –

    • George

      Religionists (aka theists ) in general don’t know what logic is. The belief in some invisible , imaginary , formless , indescribable , unproven supposed supernatural being deserves NO respect. We may as well believe in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus , Mother Goose , the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Purple Unicorns. People who promote or try to force these beliefs upon others by coercion or brutal force don’t deserve any respect. People who try to trample and oppress those who are dissenters of THEIR indoctrinated dogmatic beliefs don’t deserve any respect. Unfortunately religion widely permeates our society and culture and has merged forcefully into politics and those of us who chose to “opt out” suffer as a result.

      • Guest

        I’ve been posting at the Richard Dawkins F.B. and what I keep getting from the Atheist side – which is slightly surprising, is that the thought of banning Organized Religion outright is somewhat heavy handed. The rational is to simply “educate” the Religionists away from faith: that it must be gentle and “kind.” But as I said: I appeal to the Historical record; no change on a global scale has ever come about via slow motion assimilation. Empires have come and gone, business built up and bankrupted; ideologies waxed and waned – but not a single one has ever come to prominence simply via gentle persuasion. We are a brutal lot: the lives and intellectual freedoms we enjoy now have come at a high cost. Are we not a tad arrogant when we trust that intellect alone will save the day, when the record says otherwise? Why can’t we accept our nature: it’s got us this far – and something needs to change: the world is heading for a great change even if we don’t accept it. I advocate banning Organized Religion, but not the right for individuals to think. In practical terms, this would mean no more Churches and gathering en mass publicly – in any form. No Muslims, no Christians and any other denomination may meet to worship publically. Still, the reading of Holy books in the privacy of their homes, and even on Internet Forums will be allowed. I’m against the Institutions of Religion, not the intellectual pursuit of.

        • George

          I understand your point and I have NEVER advocated banning anyone’s belief system but what I detest is when organized religion forces itself upon the populace and requires strict adherence or else. If a person wants to believe in the Easter Bunny or Tinker Bell —-go for it , as I don’t really give a rat’s rear end.
          The problem with the major organized religions is that they vehemently proselytize and have as their mission to convert EVERYONE to their belief system and we know that dissention is NOT allowed. According to them , only THEIR belief has truth and merit. According to them , it’s either their way or the highway. According to them we are nothing but infidels, heatens, heretics and lost souls that need saving and repentance and all that BS . These are the people who adamantly refuse to leave other people alone. The arrogance of it all is when secular individuals or even individuals of other belief systems stand up to them to be recognized as well , then these ignorant organized religious zealot individuals have the unmitigated gall to call US intollerant.

        • George

          I’m replying to my previous post a few minutes ago since the reply window wouldn’t allow two replys under the same name. I do indeed have a problem with ANY belief system that is harmful to individuals or teaches the subjugation, exploitation, enslavement, forced conversion or hatred of others other who believe other than themselves which just about sums up most of the major organized religions. Any belief system that teaches it’s adherants to kill and/or enslave others who don’t accept their beliefs should indeed be banned. Any belief system that uses force or coersion , threats, fear , intimidation and harrassment to get people to convert to it’s tennants is NOT a belief system of freedom , justice and equality or for that matter a belief system that teaches love, peace and harmony. It’s all a big organized fraud and a sham.
          The biggest problem with organized religion is that it has mixed itself with politics and is used to control the populace. Their warped mentality preaches to convert or die. Their belief system becomes nothing but mental slavery of the mind and physical slavery by forced adherance to it’s rules and beliefs. Under these SPECIFIC circumstances , I believe such beliefs should indeed be banned.
          The problem is that the world is so enshrouded with theological brainwashing , that those few secular voices who do speak out amount to a drop of water in an olympic size swimming pool. It’s an uphill battle ( or more like an up the mountain battle ). It’s also a sad state of affairs but a struggle we cannot afford to give up.

      • Dave

        @ George

        In modern times, is there really an honest need for Religious Institutions? What functions do they perform that would justify their existence? Is it simply an emotional attachment to past and traditions? I seriously think most who claim to be Catholic, Protestant are really just labelling themselves, it’s an identity badge. Muslims – if given a choice – would probably opt out of the tedium of Islam and all its ritualised bondage to the centre of Life, the Mosque. Religion is really not a choice in society; you are either born into it or your whole culture is based on it. Very few really “enjoy” it – apart from the fundamentalist. I am not advocating banning individuals; that would be a clear violation of their basic human rights. But, I would severely curtail or eliminate Organized Religion, with a specific clause requirement, that those bodies with links to politics or government must be prime candidate for removal. As you say, Religion acts as a dark satellite – influencing political decisions. Otherwise we will have to put up with Palestine, Northern Ireland and all the difficulty of having an unelected body dictate policy.

        • George

          Organized religion is nothing but organized brainwashing———PERIOD !

  • Andrew M

    I agree fully with your last comment on the Mahometan but they haven’t taken a stronghold here yet like they have in Europe. There’s far more to worry about from a muscular Christianity the near and domestic future: parochial homeschooled brainwashing, haughty homosexual legislation, faith-based family decisions, and a generalized aversion to science which directly contradicts revelation. The last matter alone will ensure the meltdown of our already-battered economy as we know it. Enjoy riding your mule on the interstate, by the way.

    Science is America’s way forward to a bright, bustling, and (I hate to say it, but I mean it strictly in the biological sense) sustainable future. Vast reserves of nuclear energy lie idle beneath the soil because of eco-liberal racketeering against this “evil fuel”, while vast quantities of unused umbilical cords get tossed out with the bathwater because of sanctimonious Christian conservative mandating the value of “life”. This ignores how evil the noxious fossil fuels and inefficient green fuels are, and it utterly ignores the hundreds of millions of lives which would be immeasurably improved thanks to advances in stem-cell technology.

    Right now we need conservative values to beat out the strong Islamist puppet arm of liberal leverage, whose fulcrum lies at the White House with the Houses seesawing precariously to its sides. Then right afterwards we need Enlightened values to wash down the high-strung political proselytizing before it reduce our nation’s minds to metaphysical psycho-babble. Who’s with me?