Church-State Relationships in America

By Gerard V. Bradley | Go to book overview

6

The Founders' Worldview: The Sacred Canopy Explained

What the congressional framers and state ratifiers understood by nonestablishment was no sect preference. Joseph Story thus accurately captured the relevant meaning. When the First Amendment was adopted, "the general, if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as it was not inconsistent with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship." 1 That the amendment conditioned the manner in which government aided religion, rather than banning all aid, is a distinction that has eluded the Supreme Court. But not Story: "An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation at the time of the adoption of the Constitution." 2

Story was right. But before elaborately verifying his proposition with historical evidence, it is important to appreciate just what he has gotten hold of. Everson grabbed onto the same thing: the Court's "freedom-loving colonials" constitute Story's sentimental universe. Whether such broadly brushed attributions are accurate is one question--and it is clear that Story and the Everson Court cannot both be right--the validity of the method displayed is another. And it is questionable, for these are assertions about a critical, relevant portion of the founders' intellectual infrastructure, their mentality or gestalt. The reader may choose any term that correspondingly marks an outer limit on where thought can lead. A good one is horizon, connoting a boundary beyond which vision, whether with one's eyes or one's mind, is impossible. "Separation of church and state," walled or otherwide, is a notion possible only in societies that (1) have clearly differentiated the sacred from the profane, where God's due and Caesar's are

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