The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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Religious Freedom vs Religion

by Susan Batte

There is a bogus quote attributed to James Madison that is usually found expressed in one of three ways:

". . . Religion . . . [is] the basis and foundation of government."

"Religion [is] the basis and foundation of government."

"Religion is the basis and foundation of government."

The quote was manufactured from Section 15 of James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance (The complete text of this document may be found at James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance.), written in June of 1785:

15. Because finally, "the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience" is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consult the "Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of Government," it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis.

James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance

The bogus quote is trying to make it appear as if Madison was saying RELIGION is the basis and foundation of government when in fact he was saying that rights, individual rights, individual freedoms such as religious freedom was the basis and foundation of government.

It was asked:

What is fundamentally different from the two? [religion and religious freedom] One says religion and the other religious freedom.

[S. Batte says]

Religious freedom is the sole aim of the separation of church and state doctrine. Is it hard for you to believe that such a principle of separation actually promotes the free worship of religion by people? The opposite, government sponsorship of religion, may promote the free worship of religion by some, but at the expense of others. Which principle, separationism or gov't endorsement, provides the greatest good for the most number of people. Obviously the answer is separationism, which leaves the choice of whether to support religion or not to the individual.

This is the quote from Alley:

"In Madison's words, religious freedom is 'the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his religion according to the dictates of conscience [and] is held by the same tenure with all other rights, if we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us' It is the 'basis and foundation of government.'"

PUBLIC EDUCATION AND THE PUBLIC GOOD, by Robert S. Alley, William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol 4 issue 1 Summer 1995

How does it support your anti-separationist view? Equal right of EVERY citizen. Not just christian citizens or religious citizens. Freedom to maintain opinions about religion without such opinions affecting civil capacity. Taxes to support religious programs or vouchers to fund religious schools or prayer in public schools affect civil capacity by mandating endorsement of religion by those whose "dictates of conscience" just might tell them to do otherwise. Again I will bring up the fact that prohibiting government sponsorship or endorsement of religion translates in the most freedom to exercise religious practices. Even allowing prayer in school imposes some restrictions on those who do not pray, do not pray to the same God, or believe that public prayer is sinful. By allowing that seemingly harmless practice you may be severely curtailing religious liberty. By saying there will be no prayer in public school which is organized and presented to the entire class at a certain time every day, you are in no way limiting any one's freedom to practice or worship their religion. Children can still say a prayer to themselves to start the day. They can say grace over lunch. Talk to their friends during recess about what they did at church or an upcoming religious holiday or celebration. The difference is that endorsement restricts religious liberty and separationism does not. Present any "erosion of Religious Liberty" as you see it, and see if the very same analysis does apply in some way or another. Vouchers for religious schools .....

The secular goal is to be able to educate the public as much as possible so that acquiring jobs, participating in the political process, fulfilling individual potential becomes possible. Financial support of religious schools through vouchers means that taxpayers who disagree with a particular religious doctrine, history or philosophy would be forced to financially support its perpetuation. By prohibiting financial support through vouchers, religious liberty has not been compromised. The goal in educating children is not to instill any particular religious belief in them. Children can still be trained in religion at their religious institutions. And if the parents of these children want to go one step further and create and fund a religious school which has both the secular and sectarian goals, they may do so.

Sending their children to a private school, however, does not obviate their national educational goal, to educate America's children.


 
 
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