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James Madison on Separation of Church and State

All quotation taken from Robert S. Alley, ed., James Madision on Religious Liberty, pp. 37-94.

James Madison (1751-1836) is popularly known as the "Father of the Constitution." More than any other framer he is responsible for the content and form of the First Amendment. His understanding of federalism is the theoretical basis of our Constitution. He served as President of the United States between 1809-1817.

Madison's most famous statement on behalf of religious liberty was his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, which he wrote to oppose a bill that would have authorized tax support for Christian ministers in the state of Virginia.

Other sources for Madison's beliefs are his letter to Jasper Adams, where he argues on behalf of letting religion survive on its own merits, and a 1792 article in which he suggests that there is no specific religious sanction for American government.

Finally, a good deal of Madision's Detached Memoranda concerns the issue of religious liberty. This material is particularly important in that it gives Madision's views of a number of events that are sometimes disputed by accomodationists (eg., congressional chaplains, days of prayer, etc.).

Direct references to separation:

Madison's summary of the First Amendment:

Against establishment of religion

On Congressional chaplains and proclaimations of days of prayer:

Did Madison want the Bill of Rights to apply to the states?

Madision's definition of "establishment":

One can get some idea of Madison's defintion of establishment by looking at his veto messages for certain legislation presented to him by Congress during his presidency. Generally, Madision's definition was expansive; he vetoed legislation incorporating an Episcopal church in the District of Columbia, and reserving a parcel of land for a Baptist church. Read in context, these veto messages demolish the claim that Madison would have turned a blind eye to minor religious establishments.

Madison and religion at public universities:

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