Politifact on Religion

Politifact recently checked a claim that the founders of the American republic thought religion only referred to Christianity. They deemed this a pants on fire lie based on the following:

Thomas Kidd, professor of history at Baylor University and the author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, said ‘the founders were certainly aware of other religions besides Christianity, and discussed them at length in their writings.’

Kidd pointed us to a 1818 letter from John Adams: ‘This country has done much. I wish it would do more; and annul every narrow idea in religion, government and commerce,’ Adams wrote. ‘It has pleased the providence of the first cause, the universal cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews, but to Christians and Mohomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world.’

Benjamin Franklin also weighed in on the subject. Jan Ellen Lewis, professor of history at Rutgers University, cited Franklin’s autobiography, when he praised a new meeting house built in Philadephia. ‘The design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general,’ Franklin wrote. ‘So that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.’

In his autobiography, Thomas Jefferson spoke directly to the debate over the crafting of a Virginia statute for religious freedom. Jefferson describes a proposal to add the phrase ‘the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion. The insertion was rejected by a great majority,’ Jefferson wrote, ‘In proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.’

"Fundamentalist: When Founders Said Religion They Meant Christianity," Politifact http://bit.ly/1leHdc5

I find it odd that Christian people today seek constitutional rights to oppress other religious groups. It is equally absurd that radical secularists seek to exclude religious groups from all public reason. The form of secularism the founders seem to have had in mind in the above quotations generally promotes the State's even handed-ness towards different groups rather than their total exclusion. The aim seems to be the best way to promote freedom as broadly as possible. That it has turned out to be rather difficult to figure out the best way to foster a reasonably fair expression of religious difference in a practicable manner over the past few hundred years, is beside the point. As it happens, the founders did not say that the task of balancing freedom with equality and fraternity would be easy. Charles Taylor's A Secular Age provides a lengthy recent contextualization of these matters. 

timothywstanley@me.com