Falwell Foolishness: Have Jefferson And Madison Joined The Moral Majority?

The Religious Right crusade to recruit Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other Founders of our nation into the theocratic camp is ludicrous, but it just won't stop.

Jerry Falwell chose today, the occasion of Madison's birthday, to launch the latest salvo. In his "Falwell Confidential" email, the tiresome TV preacher cites – of all things – religious language in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom as some sort of proof that Jefferson and Madison are on the same side with the Religious Right.

Relying on research by "historians" such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and "Christian nation" revisionist David Barton, the Moral Majority founder proclaims, "I believe it is imperative that Christians go back to the basics to learn about the Judeo-Christian foundations of our nation. Purchase books like Mr. Gingrich's 'Rediscovering God in America,' regularly visit the WallBuilders Web site in order to become knowledgeable and conversant on our nation's glorious history.

"And to my pastor friends," Falwell continued, "I say that we must ensure that our congregations understand that America was founded on Christian principles and we must be proactive in defending them."

What are the real "facts" about Jefferson, Madison and the nation's founding?

Jefferson and Madison loathed the kind of theocratic tyranny represented by Falwell, Pat Roberton, James Dobson & Company. They spent their lives trying to ensure that America never fell under the sway of a politicized reactionary clergy.

Jefferson, in his campaigns for the presidency, faced the wrath of New England preachers who shared the Falwell perspective on church-state relations. They bitterly condemned Jefferson for his unorthodox religious beliefs and his support for the separation of religion and government.

Writing to Benjamin Rush in September of 1800, Jefferson observed, "[The pro-establishment clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

After leaving office, he sent a Dec. 6, 1813, letter to Alexander von Humboldt, making this observation, "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes."

Madison was just as strict in opposition to Falwell-style church-state union.

In his 1785 Memorial and Remonstrance, Madison asserted, "[I]t is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties....Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?"

In an 1819 letter to Robert Walsh, Madison insisted, "[T]he number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State."

In a letter to F.L. Schaeffer in 1821, Madison said, "The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity."

To suggest that Jefferson and Madison held the same church-state views as Falwell, Gingrich and Barton is beyond ridiculous. Jerry, for heaven's sake, give it a rest.