2014 will be a crucial year for the future of religious freedom in the United States as The Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases are argued and decided and the Little Sisters of the Poor and related cases continue to wend their way through various appeals course en route to SCOTUS unless Hobby Lobby/Conestoga moot them all with a clear and indeed sweeping pronouncement on the freedom of people of faith to be free of government mandates that strike at their core beliefs.
Throughout 2014 I will seek out lawyers in the front ranks of these cases, whether my friends at Alliance Defending Freedom or Paul Clement who will be arguing on behalf of Hobby Lobby. All of those discussions and all of the arguments before the Court as well as the decisions that issue from it should proceed from a right understanding of how this country made its original peace between church an state, which was embodied in the religion clauses of the First Amendment, which are themselves informed by many crucial documents and debates and indeed by the 1600 years of the West that proceeded settlement of the American continent. I began this year’s Hillsdale Dialogues with Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn with an hour’s conversation devoted to this basic understanding, which you will soon be able to listen to here, and the transcript of which is already posted here. The documents we specifically reference are:
- James Madison—Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments (1785): Madison concludes with the argument, “Because finally, ‘the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience’ is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature…Either then, we must say, that the Will of the Legislature is the only measure of their authority; and that in the plenitude of this authority, they may sweep away all our fundamental rights; or, that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred: Either we must say, that they may control the freedom of the press, may abolish the Trial by Jury, may swallow up the Executive and Judiciary Powers of the State; nay that they may despoil us of our very right of suffrage, and erect themselves into an independent and hereditary Assembly or, we must say, that they have no authority to enact into law the Bill under consideration.”
- Northwest Ordinance (1787), Article 3: “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
- Thomas Jefferson–Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786): “That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”
- George Washington—Letter to the Hebrew Congregation (1790): “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
- Thomas Jefferson—Letter to the Danbury Baptist Associations (1802): the famous “wall of separation between Church and State” letter.