"The number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State."
That's the view of James Madison, the nation's fourth president and the man widely acknowledged as the "Father of the Constitution," who wrote those words in an 1819 letter to Robert Walsh.
March 16 marks the 250th anniversary of Madison's birth, and according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, that date is an excellent time to consider what one of our founding fathers would have thought about recent Bush administration proposals to extend tax aid to "faith-based" programs.
Madison firmly opposed government funding of religion. He personally helped defeat a bill in Virginia that would have taxed residents to support religious ministries and as president vetoed two measures that would have given government support or other recognition to churches.
"Madison saw the dangers to both church and state inherent in government funding of 'faith-based' programs," said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "If he were here today, I believe he would be leading the fight to see these initiatives defeated."
"Madison was light years ahead of many of today's political leaders in understanding why government should not fund religion," continued Lynn. "He and his staunch ally Thomas Jefferson understood that government attempts to 'help' religion always do more harm than good. We are in dire need of that wisdom today."
In celebration of Madison's 250th birthday, Americans United has researched his thinking on religion and government and compiled some of Madison's best observations on church-state relations. Included is an essay by Robert Boston on "James Madison And Church-State Separation" and a collection of Madison quotes called "What God Has Put Asunder: Madison On Church And State." Also included is the full text of the "Memorial & Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments," an important historical document Madison wrote in 1785 listing 15 reasons why government should not force people to support religion through taxation.
Point Five can be read as a rebuke of President George W. Bush's "faith-based initiative." Madison wrote that a scheme to direct tax funds to religious ministries in Virginia "implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of all Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world; the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.