In 1785, before the Philadelphia Convention met to draft the Constitution of the United States, James Madison wrote and distributed to his fellow Virginians "A Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments" (reproduced in the appendix to this volume), which included this statement on the relationship between church and state: "The Religion . . . of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate."
Few if any Americans today would quarrel with this statement of principle or the sentiment it conveys; yet issues involving government and religion are among the most contentious confronting us as a nation. This book, therefore, examines the origins of the constitutional separation of church and state and the difficulty of achieving both the security of religion in society and its free exercise.
The fact that Madison and others had to argue against what they considered to be establishment of religion in Virginia (and in other states) indicates that the place of religion in a democratic republic was a subject of great debate at the time of the founding. But the number and variety of issues having to do with the relation—or separation—of church and state are even greater today. The specific issues are familiar enough to all of us: prayer in public schools, abortion, tuition tax credits, the teaching of creationism, use of public funds or facilities by parochial schools, and rules regarding tax-exempt status for churches and religious schools, among others.
Religion, it should be noted, was mentioned only once in the original, unamended Constitution—in the provision prohibiting religious tests for government office. Given the alliances between church and state in the old world, however, and the religious tests that were required in most of the states at the time, for many of the framers this crucial prohibition, together with the Constitution's enumeration of limited powers, went a long way to ensure the protection of religious and other civil rights.
The Anti-Federalists, however—those who opposed ratification of the Constitution—thought more explicit provisions were needed,