The ACLU Takes on James Madison and the Founders on School Prayer


ACRU Staff


May 15, 2007

When James Madison penned the Bill of Rights in 1789, surely the idea of blocking local school children in Monroe, LA in 2007 from solemnizing their graduation ceremony with prayer was his intent, right? After all, he objected to official prayers, Thanksgiving proclamations to God, congressional chaplains, and worship meetings held in federal buildings while in the first congresses under the new Constitution, didn’t he?

Well, no.

In fact, when Madison’s good friend Thomas Jefferson – no Christian he, and often cited for support from those seeking a radical “wall of separation” between government and all things religious – did things that would make today’s ACLU go berserk, Madison and the other Founders that sought to protect the states from an established national church were content.

Madison voted with Congress on December 4, 1800, to allow for the Capitol building to double as a church building – where Jefferson as president often chose to worship. Nor did he object when Jefferson began similar Christian services in the Executive Branch, both at the Treasury Building and at the War Office.

When Madison followed Jefferson into the presidency, he followed his friend’s tradition of worshipping at the Capitol. And he went further, issuing several proclamations for public days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving.

If all this is so, then why does the ACLU object so strenuously when students at local schools wish to mark their graduation with prayer and thanksgiving to God? How on earth can the ACLU interpret the voluntary religious actions of a small school in Monroe, LA – even if led by school officials, which they aren’t – as an establishment of religion?

Certainly, the Founders warned and worked against the establishment of a national church or religion under the Constitution. They did this while maintaining a highly favorable view of religious expression and worship by public officials in official settings up to the highest levels of national government. And they saw no contradiction in doing so.

So why is it that the ACLU – in the name of “religious liberty” – seeks to establish secularism all the way down to even the most local level? Who really is it, in this debate over school prayer, that is being consistent with the Constitution and intent of the Founders? Perhaps the ACLU should rethink its position, or at least come clean with its real intent, which is to overturn the Constitution and the great majority view of the people at those points it most disagrees.



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