The “founding fathers” and religious liberty

From Anglican Virginia, Puritan New England, Quaker Pennsylvania and everywhere in between, Waldman makes it clear that America, both as a set of colonies and as a young republic, was no hotbed of religious freedom. Boston-based Puritans routinely beat and tortured Quakers in their midst, for instance, and though Maryland was founded explicitly as a refuge for Catholics in 1632, less than a century later they were barred from owning property or voting; priests could be imprisoned for life. After independence, most states barred non-Christians (a group that sometimes included Catholics) from holding office.

Though he spends a lot of time on Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson (and convincingly dispels the idea that they were deists or non-believers), the real hero of Waldman’s account is James Madison, the fourth president and the father of the Constitution. As a young man in 18th century Virginia, Madison witnessed the systematic and at times brutal repression of dozens of “unlicensed” Baptist preachers by the Anglican-dominated government. Madison’s “transformational ideas about religious freedom grew in part from disturbing incidents in his backyard,” says Waldman. Madison concluded that separating church and state not only secured the most basic human right of conscience, it created the precondition for religion to thrive.

Full Story: NY Post.


  1. Tolerance for difference of opinion is a secular value. Lack of god-given certainty occurs naturally among those who lack a god.

    Christianity has always had the trait of absorbing that which opposes it, then claiming that which opposed it was actually part of it all along. Christianity supported slavery and segregation for thousands of years, now it can’t stop crowing about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    Combine the secular value of tolerance and the Christian trait of co-opting and you get contemporary Christianity in the USA. It is Christian in name and ritual, but underneath is the secular value of tolerance.

    That’s why you don’t see this sort of intollerance as much in the USA, and why you see it all the time in Muslim countries.

  2. Lance-Corporal Snorky

    March 18, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    “and convincingly dispels the idea that they were deists or non-believers”

    Deists do NOT equal non-believers.

    In any case, “non-believers” in what, exactly? Everybody believes in something. I assume they mean that the Post means the Founders weren’t non-believers in the Judeo-Christian God, but then I would have to overlook all the evidence to the contrary, like the secular bible penned by Jefferson, or the giant statue of Washington at the Masonic Lodge in D.C.


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