be called 'multiple establishment': let the state subsidize religious institutions, but do so for all, apportioning funds according to their size.

Madison's view was clearly expressed in his Memorial and remonstrance against religious assessments. Religion, he maintained, was a matter of opinion, and the government dared not try to coerce assent, as, he claimed, Virginia was doing. Henry was the main opponent of Madison's proposal to disestablish all churches. Madison, an adept politician, helped see to Henry's election to the governorship, thus depriving the state legislature of his voice. Madison and his colleagues then gathered support around the state and in 1786 Jefferson's bill passed by a vote of 76:2c.25

A couple of years later, Madison busied himself in selling the Constitution to the states, whose legislatures had to ratify it. Contributing to the Federalist Papers, he argued that 'security for civil rights must be the same as for religious rights; it consists in the one case in a multiplicity of interests and in the other in a multiplicity of sects'.26

In 1789, with the Constitution ratified and in force, arguments like those in Virginia now reached representatives of all the states. After agonizing argument, the formulators came up with two clauses, totalling sixteen words: 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. They had to settle for that first word, 'Congress'. They dared not interfere directly with cherished state policies, but they had set in motion a force of understanding that eventually came to prevail in federal courts. The two clauses, meanwhile, were seen from the beginning sometimes to be in conflict: undercutting establishment could mean that some forums, which religious groups had hitherto considered places for free access, were now beyond their reach. That did not look like 'free exercise'.

What, one might ask, was so revolutionary about this amendment? Taking a long historical view the answer is a great deal, a revolutionarily great deal. For 1,400 years, since the age of Constantine in the Roman Empire, wherever Christians were a strong presence they favoured and often held a monopoly or at least a privileged status at the hands of a complicit government. Christians then could do to others what had been done to them by the Romans: try to force compliance and then to deprive non-Christians of rights or citizenship or even survival. That period and approach ended with the First Amendment.

Those like Henry in Virginia and any number of New Englanders who feared that disestablishment would mean a decline in morals and virtue, to say nothing of church growth - who would finance religion, and how would they do so? - protested or turned sullen and uncooperative. Yet experience after the

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment