Episode 360: Religious Tolerance, Really?

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Religious Tolerance became Religious Liberty through the efforts of JamesReligious Tolerance Madison as well as Thomas Jefferson and others. The crux of the 1st Amendment Establishment Clause is ‘Liberty of Conscience’ and no establishment of a national religion.

This week’s program is in reply to feedback from those who commented on last weeks newsletter or program. What we hear echoing in the snippets from Conservative Christian organizations or from our own echo chamber is not always the full story of religious tolerance and liberty.

With that in mind, this program is about the original intent of religious liberty and the true meaning of tolerance. The first segment is an explanation of Justice Story’s ‘Commentary on the Constitution’ explaining the original intent of this clause. In the second segment, I also discuss another example of the Biden administration forcing the implementation of the National Religion.

Lastly, in the third segment, I dive into the Founders perspective of tolerance and in particular, religious tolerance which then develops religious liberty in a Constitutional Republic.

Starting with Justice Story:

Justice Story, in his Commentaries on the Constitution wrote:

§ 1871. The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age. The history of the parent country had afforded the most solemn warnings and melancholy instructions on this head; and even New England, the land of the persecuted puritans, as well as other colonies, where the Church of England had maintained its superiority, would furnish out a chapter, as full of the darkest bigotry and intolerance, as any, which could be found to disgrace the pages of foreign annals. Apostacy, heresy, and nonconformity had been standard crimes for public appeals, to kindle the flames of persecution, and apologize for the most atrocious triumphs over innocence and virtue.

And lastly for now from Justice Story:

§ 1873. It was under a solemn consciousness of the dangers from ecclesiastical ambition, the bigotry of spiritual pride, and the intolerance of sects, thus exemplified in our domestic, as well as in foreign annals, that it was deemed advisable to exclude from the national government all power to act upon the subject. The situation, too, of the different states equally proclaimed the policy, as well as the necessity of such an exclusion. In some of the states, episcopalians constituted the predominant sect; in others, presbyterians; in others, congregationalists; in others, quakers; and in others again, there was a close numerical rivalry among contending sects. It was impossible, that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it had not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests. Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.

Keeping it Simple

Foundationally with contextual original intent, the 1st Amendment Establishment Clause has only one purpose, which is to ensure that the federal government does not chose on Christian denomination over the other as a national religion.

Sam Adams Wisdom


JANUARY 27, 1797. (my emphasis added)

‘Although it is not long since the subject of elections was under the consideration of the Legislature, and a law passed for the purpose of further security to the people in the free exercise of this invaluable right; yet give me leave to suggest for your consideration, whether still further securities may not be provided, so that the rightful electors may not be frustrated in their honest intentions. That elections may not be contaminated by strangers, or unqualified persons, may it not be necessary that every man may be known, as far as possible, when he presents himself to give his vote; this may be more especially important in our seaports and other populous towns, in which many foreigners of all sorts frequently reside. I would be far from dictating to you, but I would submit to your judgment whether, considering the liberality of this country to foreigners, and the frequency of their naturalizations, it may not be eligible that such foreigners should be required when they offer their votes to the Selectmen of the towns, to produce authentic certificates from the Courts, by which they were endowed with so high a privilege, as a test of their citizenship. As Piety, Religion and Morality have a happy influence on the minds of men, in their public as well as private transactions, you will not think it unseasonable, although I have frequently done it, to bring to your remembrance the great importance of encouraging our University, town schools, and other seminaries of education, that our children and youth while they are engaged in the pursuit of useful science, may have their minds impressed with a strong sense of the duties they owe to their God, their instructors and each other, so that when they arrive to a state of manhood, and take a part in any public transactions, their hearts having been deeply impressed in the course of their education with the moral feelings—such feelings may continue and have their due weight through the whole of their future lives.’


Founders Constitution on 1st Amendment

1. Amendment I (Religion) – 69 plus references

2. Document 69- Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution 3:§§ 1865–73

Other Recourses:

1. The Founder’s Tolerance

2. George Mason – Religious Views

3. George Mason’s Pursuit of Religious Liberty in Revolutionary Virginia by Daniel Driesbach

4. Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written by the Bill of Rights Institute

5. Conscience and the Law of Life – Belcher Foundation

6. Conscience is the Most Sacred Property: James Madison, Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and Justice – Handout A: Narrative

7. James Madison and Religious Freedom

8. James Madison and Religious Liberty -The Heritage Foundation

9. James Madison – The First Amendment Encyclopedia

10. Religious Liberty: Landmark Supreme Court Cases

11. Biden Eyes Ban on Conversion Therapy Funding With Order Marking Pride Month

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