Letter: Madison essay can throw light on meaning of the First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” I’m not sure how William Ahrens (Letters, March 15) came to his interpretation of that first sentence of the First Amendment, but I think a consideration of the mind-set of James Madison, the primary author of the Bill of Rights, is relevant.

Madison and the other Founding Fathers were British, and as such shared a profound awareness of the torture, murder, pogroms and civil war that marked the long contest between Catholic, Church of England and Puritan religions for supremacy as the sole national religion of the kingdom. 

He was also a prolific writer who extensively explained his positions, including his long history of opposition to any form of state funding for religion. I suggest that anyone pondering the true meaning of the First Amendment simply read his essay “Monopolies Perpetuities Corporations Ecclesiastical Endowments,” in which he makes his case against government financial support of religion — including tax exemptions for churches and public funding of congressional and military chaplains. 

— Ken Higgins

 Anchorage



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