Founding Fathers Quotes on Religious Freedom and the Separation Between Church & State

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First Amendment Quotes: Quotes on Religious Freedom From America's Founding Fathers“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Religious freedom was important to the Founders for one simple reason: They themselves were religiously heterogeneous, to say nothing of the new nation. They distrusted the power of an established church like the Church of England. Indeed, many early Americans were religious dissenters escaping such as the Baptists, Quakers and even Catholics. While the First Amendment does not, contrary to popular opinion, provide for “separation between church and state,” it does prevent the federal government from establishing a state church.

Individual states were free to do so. In fact, many did. Congregationalism was a popular choice for New England states. Indeed, Massachusetts was the last state to disestablish the Congregationalist Church in 1833. Currently, eight states prohibit atheists from holding public office (Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas). It is unclear if such laws would pass Constitutional muster, not due to the First Amendment, but the 14th, which prohibits depriving any American of their rights without due process of law.

On Religious Freedom

“Because no People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences, … I do hereby grant and declare, That no Person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.”

“Let the pulpit resound with the doctrine and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear of the dignity of man’s nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God. … Let it be known that British liberties are not the grants of princes and parliaments.”

John Adams, Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law, 1765

“Spiritual freedom is the root of political liberty. … As the union between spiritual freedom and political liberty seems nearly inseparable, it is our duty to defend both.”

“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity; towards each other.”

James Madison (Also attributed to George Mason), Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776

“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God.”

“We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions … shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power … we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.”

“We hold it for a fundamental and inalienable truth that religion and the manner of discharging it can be directed only by reason and conviction not by force and violence. The religion, then, 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.”

James Monroe, Address to the Virginia General Assembly, June 20, 1785

“We, the General Assembly of Virginia, do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, or shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions of belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capabilities.”

“Adam, if ever there were such a man, was created a Deist; but in the mean time let every man follow, as he has a right to do, the religion and the worship he prefers.”

“It is the will of the Almighty, that there should be diversity of religious opinions among us: It affords a larger field for our Christian kindness. Were we all of one way of thinking, our religious dispositions would want matter for probation; and on this liberal principle, I look on the various denominations among us, to be like children of the same family, differing only, in what is called, their Christian names.”

“It is true, we are not disposed to differ much, at present, about religion; but when we are making a constitution, it is to be hoped, for ages and millions yet unborn, why not establish the free exercise of religion as a part of the national compact.”

“I have ever regarded the freedom of religious opinions and worship as equally belonging to every sect.”

“I will now add what I do not like. First, the omission of a bill of rights, providing clearly, and without the aid of sophism, for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction of monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury, in all matters of fact triable by the law of the land, and not by the laws of nations.”

“Equal and exact justice to all men . . . freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of the person under the protection of the habeas corpus; and trial by juries impartially selected—these principles form the bright constellation that has gone before us.”

“I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.”

“The liberty enjoyed by the people of these States of worshipping Almighty God, agreable to their consciences, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights.”

“Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.”

“The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.”

John Jay, Original Chief-Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court

“[Why] should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book? Its morals are pure, its examples captivating and noble. The reverence for the Sacred Book that is thus early impressed lasts long; and probably if not impressed in infancy, never takes firm hold of the mind.”

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“It is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel, and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what it’s Author never said nor saw. they have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognise one feature.”

On the Separation of Church & State

“As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith.”

“In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced … The only sects which he [Locke] thinks ought to be and which by all wise laws are excluded from such toleration are those who teach doctrines subversive of the civil government under which they live. The Roman Catholics or Papists are excluded by reason of such doctrines as these: that princes excommunicated may be deposed, and those they call heretics may be destroyed without mercy; besides their recognizing the pope in so absolute a manner, in subversion of government, by introducing as far as possible into the states under whose protection they enjoy life, liberty, and property that solecism in politics, Imperium in imperio, leading directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil discord, war and bloodshed.”

“The opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction.”

“It gives me much pleasure to observe by 2 printed reports sent me by Col. Grayson that in the latter Congress had expunged a clause contained in the first for setting apart a district of land in each Township, for supporting the Religion of the Majority of inhabitants. How a regulation, so unjust in itself, so foreign to the Authority of Congress so hurtful to the sale of the public land, and smelling so strongly of an antiquated Bigotry, could have received the countenance of a Committee is truly matter of astonishment.”

“The business of civil government is to protect the citizen in his rights, to defend the community from hostile powers, and to promote the general welfare. Civil government has no business to meddle with the private opinions of the people. If I demean myself as a good citizen, I am accountable, not to man, but to God, for the religious opinions which I embrace, and the manner in which I worship the supreme being. … But while I assert the right of religious liberty, I would not deny that the civil power has a right, in some cases, to interfere with religion. It has a right to prohibit and punish gross immoralities and impieties; because the open practice of these is of evil example and public detriment. For this reason, I heartily approve of our laws against drunkeness, profane swearing, blasphemy, and professed atheism.”

“Religious persecution may shield itself under the guise of a mistaken and overzealous piety.”

Edmund Burke, Impeachment of Warren Hastings, February 7, 1788

“Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any Manner contrary to their conscience.”

“As to those employed in teaching and inculcating the duties of religion, there may be some indelicacy in singling them out [as a category in a census], as the general government is proscribed from interfering, in any manner whatever, in matters respecting religion; and it may be thought to do this, in ascertaining who, and who are not, ministers of the gospel.”

“Religion is a private affair between every man and his Maker, and no tribunal or third party has a right to interfere between them. It is not properly a thing of this world; it is only practiced in this world; but its object is in a future world; and it is not otherwise an object of just laws than for the purpose of protecting the equal rights of all, however various their belief may be.”

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

Thomas Jefferson to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, January 1, 1802

“The subject of religion, a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved, I have considered it as a matter between every man and his maker, in which no other, & far less the public had a right to inter-meddle.”

“Government has no Right to hurt a hair of the head of an Atheist for his Opinions. Let him have a care of his Practices.”

John Adams, Letter to John Quincy Adams, June 16, 1816

“I must admit, moreover, that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation, between the rights of Religion and the Civil authority, with such distinctness, as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to a usurpation on one side, or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against by an entire abstinence of the Government from interference, in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others.”

“The Christian religion, in its purity, is the basis, or rather the source of all genuine freedom in government. . . . and I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence.”

Ammo.com's Resistance Library: Quotes: Founding Fathers

Founding Fathers Quotes: Our Favorite Quotes from America's Courageous Revolutionaries
Founding Fathers Quotes on Religious Freedom and the Separation Between Church & State
Founding Fathers Quotes on Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press in the First Amendment
Founding Fathers Quotes on Guns and the Second Amendment's Right to Keep & Bear Arms
Founding Fathers Quotes on Standing Armies and Quartering Troops in the Third Amendment
Founding Fathers Quotes on Privacy, Search, and Seizures in the Fourth Amendment
Founding Fathers Quotes on Due Process and Eminent Domain in the Fifth Amendment
Founding Fathers Quotes on Criminal Justice and the Right to Counsel in the Sixth Amendment
Founding Fathers Quotes on Civil Lawsuits and Common Law in the Seventh Amendment
Founding Fathers Quotes on Excessive, Cruel or Unusual Punishment in the Eighth Amendment
Founding Fathers Quotes on the Dangers of Centralized Power in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments
Founding Fathers Quotes on the Importance of Physical Health and Exercise
Founding Fathers Quotes on How Central Banking is Destructive to America's Economic System
Founding Fathers Quotes on the Importance of Wisdom and Education in a Free Society
Founding Fathers Quotes on the Limited Executive Powers of the United States Presidency
Founding Fathers Quotes on Why America's Revolutionaries Fought For Liberty and Freedom
Founding Fathers Quotes on Justice For All and Equal Treatment Under the Law
Founding Fathers Quotes on Hope for Peace, Hesitation for War & Restrictions for Military
Founding Fathers Quotes on Family, Friends, and Seeking Wisdom Through Relationships
Founding Fathers Quotes on Politics, Patriotism, and the Importance of Putting America First
Founding Fathers Quotes on the American Revolution and the Fighting Spirit for Independence
Founding Fathers Quotes on Government, Democracy, and Placing Power in the People
Founding Fathers Quotes on the Founding of the Nation and the United States Constitution

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