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Forgotten Purposes of the First Amendment Religion Clauses

Gary D. Glenn
The Review of Politics
Vol. 49, No. 3 (Summer, 1987), pp. 340-367
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1407840
Page Count: 28
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Forgotten Purposes of the First Amendment Religion Clauses
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Abstract

This study questions a prevalent view of the First Amendment religion clauses which maintains they were intended to establish neutrality of the federal government between religion and nonreligion and thereby to establish not merely governmental religious pluralism but governmental secularism. Since the Bill of Rights is said to have been adopted to satisfy anti-Federalist objections to the original Constitution, what they said about religion in the ratification debates is comprehensively examined. They turn out to have been primarily concerned that the unamended Constitution was particularly dangerous to and tilted against religion. Hence they wanted not simply to prevent the new government from infringing on "religious liberty" (of individuals or states) but to redress the unamended Constitution's actual or potential tilt against religion. The First Congress debates are then examined from this rather different perspective to see what effect this concern may have had on the First Amendment religion clauses. It is argued that this concern produced a more complex constitutional position on religion and religious liberty than is commonly maintained. This position is not simply Madison/Jefferson separationism but a compromise which to some extent redressed the original Constitution's tilt against religion.

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