Separation of Church and State Homepage


If the separation debate is about nothing else, it is about history, in particular, what the founders of America believed about the role of religion in public life. Separationists believe that the founders intended to separate church and state by depriving the state of its power to either aid or hinder religion. Accomodationists believe that the state retains that power (with certain limitations), and so is constitutionally able to advance religion as a moral good.

To bolster their case, accomodationists have produced reams of quotations from famous early Americans to the effect that religion is important to public life, or that the founders themselves were religious men. As we demonstrate elsewhere, some of these quotes are either fabricated or taken out of context. Others (as we suggest in this section) are taken from people who were either opponents of the Constitution (eg., Patrick Henry), or who played no role in the framing of the Constitution or other important American documents (eg., Daniel Webster). Finally, we argue that the overwhelming majority of these quotations are irrelevant to what's at issue in the separation debate: one can be religious, and even believe that religion is important for public life, without believing that the state should have the power to aid religion, either preferentially or non-preferentially.

In this section we do three things. First, we make an effort to determine who made the most important contributions to the founding of America (we can't examine everyone, but we can certainly look at those who are generally regarded as the most influential early Americans). Second, we look at what the most important founders wrote or said about separation of church and state. Third, we look at some of the quotations cited by accomodationists to argue against separation and subject them to critical scrutiny.

We think that the results of this investigation will demonstrate that most of the important founders wanted and intended separation of church and state. We suspect that most of those who didn't agree with the separation principle ended up either opposing the Constitution, or publicly disagreeing with the separationist provisions of that document.

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