Founding Fathers

Early American Modifications of Locke's Theory of Toleration

By: Kevin Vance

The views of the American founders on religious liberty provide fertile ground for a range of different interpretations of what religious liberty protects and how religious liberty is justified. Although John Locke’s arguments for religious liberty were influential on the American founders, several founders such as John Adams and James Madison departed from or developed Locke’s arguments in a way that emphasizes how a human being’s religious obligations can limit the power of civil government. 

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The Religious Roots of the Constitution

By: Leah Farish

The religious roots of the Constitution and of the First Amendment should be recognized for two reasons—to appreciate their contribution, and to understand the new church-state paradigm they launched.

The perspective the Founders shared was overwhelmingly based on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Two-thirds of the framers came from Calvinist backgrounds; a majority were Presbyterians. The Westminster Catechism for children saturated public education (it has been estimated that there were four million colonists in 1776 and five million copies of the catechism) and signing onto Reformation-based statements of faith was required for college study. 

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Religious Freedom and the First American President

By: John Fea

I appreciate Thomas Kidd’s remarks about the Founders’ commitment to religious liberty, and I agree with everything he has written. With this in mind, I would like to elaborate on Kidd’s remarks by bringing some sustained attention to George Washington’s view of religious freedom. 

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The Limits of Religious Liberty

By: Marci Hamilton

Professor Kidd’s post, “The American Founding: Understanding the Connection between Religious and Civil Liberties,” makes a very important point that fears of religious oppression are born when a single religion is established. Yet, it does not, in my view, sufficiently nuance what is meant by religious “liberty.” His statement that “[a] free society had no more sacred duty than to protect religious liberty” is both an exaggeration and unsupported by history. For the Framers, it decidedly did not mean autonomy from the law or licentiousness. 

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Freedom, Duty, and Diversity of Religion in America's Founding

By: Matthew J. Frank

Thomas Kidd has succinctly and thoughtfully restated the importance of religious liberty for America’s revolutionary founders. Even young Alexander Hamilton, just nineteen and a student at King’s College (now Columbia), “got it.” A government that threatened its people’s consciences could not be trusted in charge of their property rights, their freedom of speech and press, or any other liberties vital to a free people. 

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