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Thanksgiving, The Founders, and Religion

There’s a reason that religious liberty was specifically written into the 1st Amendment.

If we seek evidence of the broadly shared public view of the meaning of the Establishment Clause at the time of the Founding, we find not an insistence on strict separation of church and state but instead a largely uncontroversial willingness to see the government act in a non-coercive and non-discriminatory manner to encourage religious belief and practice….

Similar proclamations of days of thanksgiving were issued by Washington’s successor in the presidency, John Adams. And while Jefferson declined to issue any during his presidency, even James Madison, Jefferson’s partner in disapproval of governmental support for religion, issued them during his tenure as president. It may well be that Madison did so against his better judgment to placate the public’s expectations. Those expectations, however, once again confirm that the dominant sense of the founding generation was that there was nothing constitutionally improper in a governmental exhortation to religious activity.

The Founders conceived of a government neutral among religions, but not one neutral with respect to the value of religion in general, both for moral instruction and for social cohesion.  While the author focuses on liberals, I think this is also something that libertarians tend to forget.

Posted in Culture, History, Law.