What did the Founding Fathers really say?

What religion were the Founding Fathers? Were they Deists? Were the founders evangelical Christians? The faith of the Founding Fathers is a fascinating and hotly debated subject. But their personal religious beliefs, while interesting, matter far less to the debates in which those beliefs are typically raised than the fact that nearly all the Founders cherished religious freedom and church-state separation. 

The Constitution is a secular document for a secular government.

The Framers of our Constitution incorporated the two pillars of American democracy—religious freedom and church-state separation—into our founding documents, building what Thomas Jefferson revered as a “wall of separation between Church & State.” The Founders got a lot wrong, but church-state separation and religious freedom they got right.

The U.S. Constitution was the first government document in history to declare that power comes from people, not gods. Our Constitution was the first not to mention a god or deity. Our Constitution was the first to ban religious tests for public office. In fact, religion is mentioned only twice: in the First Amendment, which bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and in Article VI, which prohibits “religious tests” for public office. 

The Founding Fathers were far from perfect, especially concerning the civil rights of people of color and women. But their secular ideals were ahead of their time. They are groundbreaking contributions, not just to political science and thought, but to all humanity. They are a pillar of our democracy.

To illustrate this, here are some writings and quotes from the Founding Fathers on the topic of religion and government.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson was a staunch advocate for religious freedom and an important figure in ensuring church-state separation.

Read Jefferson's quotes

James Madison

James Madison was a staunch advocate of church-state separation and an important figure in securing religious freedom in Virginia.

Read Madison's Quotes

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