Religion and the Constitution

Today was the last round of presentations in my Religion and the American Founding seminar. The presenters were Tommy DeShong and Kacie Morrell.

Tommy got things rolling with a presentation on the religious beliefs of the Anti-Federalists. He argued that many Anti-Federalists opposed the ratification of the Constitution because it did not make any explicit statement that it was creating a Christian nation. He suggested that today’s defenders of Christian America may be better off making appeals to the Anti-Federalists rather than the supporters of the Constituion.

Kacie’s paper was drawn from her ongoing interest in religious liberty. She traced America’s longstanding tradition of liberty of conscience from Roger Williams and William Penn through James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the Constitution. She concluded her presentation by arguing convincingly that Jefferson’s famous 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists (which includes the phrase “wall of separation between church and state”) was meant to advocate the protection of religious conscience from the state and not the other way around.

I do not often get a chance to teach small seminars like this one, so it was a privilege to be able to work with these students on a topic that I have invested a lot of time thinking about. Moreover, the conversations we had this semester have helped me to formulate a lot of my thinking about the topic of my forthcoming book on Christian America. Thanks to Melinda, Tommy, Ali, Courtney, Marty, Thomas, Amanda, Kacie, Renae, Matt, and Dillon for a great semester!