But even the most objective scholars can not provide jurists with the one, true answer about the 18th-century meaning of the Establishment Clause.
Opinions of the founding generation were scattered all across the spectrum on the question of the assistance government could give religion. Consider the Baptists, the most ardent separationists in the Founding Era. Some Baptists in Massachusetts and Maryland actually favored selective state financial subsidies for churches; others, while disapproving financial support, encouraged the state to print and distribute bibles; Virginia Baptists opposed both measures but were happy to accept public accommodations for church services. Presbyterians were divided over state financial assistance to churches as were political leaders in virtually every state. Statesmen like George Washington changed their mind on the issue. James Madison participated intermittently in public religious acts for 30 years, i.e., in issuing religious proclamations, which in the privacy of retirement he deplored. Jefferson permitted church services to be held in federal office buildings but was accused of hypocrisy for doing so.
Confronted by opinions so diverse and problematic, the best scholarship can be of only limited assistance in supplying the "correct" answer about the framers' precise intentions regarding government assistance to religion—a painful conclusion for a supporter of the "jurisprudence of original intent." Yet, according to a Massachusetts commentator in 1780, the meaning of the term, establishment of religion, was even then "prodigiously obscure." If so, do today's judges not deserve a degree of sympathy as they try to tease out the intentions of the drafters and ratifiers of the First Amendment?
Dreisbach's superb book, and Hamburger's as well, pierce the fog to this extent. They inform us that, if there is no "right" answer about how far the founding generation would have permitted government to go in assisting religion, there is indisputably a wrong one: the radical, unprecedented divorce of church from state that the Court has decreed since 1947.
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
Thursday, May 19, 2022
This very dense article by one Kevin Slack is found here. There are many good things in this article, most of which I've already seen; but it did manage to deliver something I hadn't noticed before and which I haven't seen either from most contemporary scholars of Ben Franklin and religion.
Apparently Franklin was involved in a liturgy project with one David Williams. From the article:
As a member of the Thirteen Club, Franklin helped David Williams construct A Liturgy on the Universal Principles of Religion and Morality in 1773–1774.258 Franklin told Williams that he “never passed a Church, during Public Service, without regretting that he could not join it honestly and cordially,” and he wished to revive a “rational form of devotion,” like that of Shaftesbury's deism, for freethinkers.259 Church attendance had declined, and there was no alternative to the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer or Dissenter enthusiasm.260 He “thought it a reproach to Philosophy that it had not a Liturgy and that it skulked from the public Profession of its Principles,” and he lamented the loss of “that pleasure, which all virtuous minds have in a public acknowledgement of their duties.”261 A liturgy was needed to preach the general principles of a common creed: “All disputed opinions should be excluded public-worship; and that all honest, pious men, Calvinists, Arians, Socinians, Jews, Turks, and Infidels, might and ought to worship God together in spirit and in truth.”262 Thus the liturgy invited the many of all faiths to join in a common creed constructed for a select “Party of Virtue.”263
The bold face is mine and it's an exact quotation from their project.
One reason why this piece of evidence may have flown under the radar of many scholars is that the evidence of Franklin's involvement in the project comes mainly from David Williams and not Franklin. However, I have found one letter of Franklin's to Williams and two letters (one and two) from Williams to Franklin.
The letters discuss their project. But in any event what was quoted above in bold reflects as far as I can tell Ben Franklin's adult opinions on both public (political) and private (personal) theology. And it's fairly close to Jefferson's and J. Adams' and thus explains the generic, "non-disputed" God language of the Declaration of Independence.