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James Madison (1751-1836)
The fourth President of the United States (1809-1817)

United States Flag

Every new & successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.
-- James Madison, letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822 (more complete excerpt given below)

And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.
-- James Madison, letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822, in Saul K Padover, ed, The Complete Madison: His Basic Writings (1953), also; from Jack N Rakove, ed, James Madison: Writings, (1999), p. 789, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

The civil government ... functions with complete success ... by the total separation of the Church from the State.
-- James Madison, 1819, Writings, 8:432, quoted from Gene Garman, "Essays In Addition to America's Real Religion"

The purpose of separation ... &c.
-- Please Note: The quip that once lived here was moved to our "Phony James Madison Quotations" feature. -- the editors

Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history. (See the cases in which negatives were put by J M on two bills passd by Congs and his signature withheld from another. See also attempt in Kentucky for example, where it was proposed to exempt Houses of Worship from taxes.
-- James Madison, "Monopolies. Perpetuities. Corporations. Ecclesiastical Endowments," in Elizabeth Fleet, "Madison's Detatched Memoranda," William & Mary Quarterly, Third series: Vol. III, No. 4 (October, 1946) p. 555. The parenthetical note at the end, which lacks a closed parenthesis in Fleet, was apparently a note Madison made to himself regarding examples of improper encroachment to use when the "Detatched Memoranda" were edited and published, and seems to imply clearly that Madison supported taxing churches. Quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church."

I must admit moreover that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency of a usurpation on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded by an entire abstinence of the Government from interference in any way whatever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect against trespass on its legal rights by others.
-- James Madison, letter to Reverend Adams, in Robert L Maddox, Separation of Church and State: Guarantor of Religious Freedom (1987) p. 39, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

We hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth "that religion, or the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." The religion, then, of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man: and that it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.
-- James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, addressed to the Virginia General Assembly, June 20, 1785

I have ever regarded the freedom of religious opinions and worship as equally belonging to every sect.
-- James Madison, letter to Mordecai Noah, May 15, 1818, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Conscience is the most sacred of all property.
-- James Madison, National Gazette, March 29, 1792, quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Torrents of blood have been spilt in the world in vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish religious discord, by proscribing all differences in religious opinions.
-- James Madison, from Joseph L Blau, Cornerstones of Religious Freedom in America (1949) p. 85, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Are not the daily devotions conducted by these legal ecclesiastics already degenerating into a scanty attendance, and a tiresome formality?
-- James Madison, being outvoted in the bill to establish the office of Congressional Chaplain, quoted from Gene Garman, "Your Questions Answered"

The general government is proscribed from the interfering, in any manner whatsoever, in matters respecting religion; and it may be thought to do this, in ascertaining who, and who are not, ministers of the gospel.
-- James Madison, 1790, Papers, 13:16

What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient allies.
-- James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, addressed to the Virginia General Assembly, June 20, 1785

Ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects.
-- James Madison, letter to Bradford, January 1774, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize, every expanded prospect.
-- James Madison, letter to William Bradford, Jr., April 1, 1774, quoted from Edwin S Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation (1987) p. 37, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

Religion flourishes in greater purity without than with the aid of government.
-- James Madison, letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

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? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute threepence only of his property for the support of any one establishment may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?
-- James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, addressed to the Virginia General Assembly, June 20, 1785

Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not.
-- James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, addressed to the Virginia General Assembly, June 20, 1785

Experience witnesseth that eccelsiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.
-- James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, addressed to the Virginia General Assembly, June 20, 1785

That diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution rages among some, and to their eternal infamy the clergy can furnish their quota of imps for such a business.
-- James Madison, letter to William Bradford, January 24, 1774, quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Among the features peculiar to the political system of the United States, is the perfect equality of rights which it secures to every religious sect ... Equal laws, protecting equal rights, are found, as they ought to be presumed, the best guarantee of loyalty and love of country; as well as best calculated to cherish that mutual respect and good will among citizens of every religious denomination which are necessary to social harmony, and most favorable to the advancement of truth.
-- James Madison, letter to Dr. De La Motta, August 1820 (Madison, 1865, III, pages 178-179), quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

[T]he bill exceeds the rightful authority to which governments are limited by the essential distinction between civil and religious functions, and violates in particular the article of the Constitution of the United States which declares that "Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment...." This particular church, therefore, would so far be a religious establishment by law, a legal force and sanction being given to certain articles in its constitution and administration.
-- James Madison, veto message, February 21, 1811. Madison vetoed a bill to incorporate the Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Because the bill vests in the said incorporated church an authority to provide for the support of the poor and the education of poor children of the same, an authority which, being altogether superfluous if the provision is to be the result of pious charity, would be a precedent for giving to religious societies as such a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty.
-- James Madison, veto message, February 21, 1811. Madison vetoed a bill to fund "pious charity" organized by the Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, saying that a project comparable to the modern "Charitible Choice" scheme of the George W Bush administration gives religious societies legal agency in performing a public and civil duty

Because the bill in reserving a certain parcel of land in the United States for the use of said Baptist Church comprises a principle and a precedent for the appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies, contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares that "Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment."
-- James Madison, veto message, February 28, 1811. Madison vetoed a bill granting public lands to a Baptist Church in Mississippi Territory. Quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom. Also in Gaillard Hunt, The Writings of James Madison, Vol. 8, (1908), p. 133.

Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any Manner contrary to their conscience.
-- James Madison, explaining to Congress during the House Debate what the First Amendment means to him, 1 Annals of Congress 730 (August 15, 1789), That his conception of "establishment" was quite broad is revealed in his veto as President in 1811 of a bill which in granting land reserved a parcel for a Baptist Church in Salem, Mississippi (directly above this entry)

How a regulation so unjust in itself, so foreign to the authority of Congress, and so hurtful to the sale of public land, and smelling so strongly of an antiquated bigotry, could have received the countenance of a committee is truly a matter of astonishment.
-- James Madison, letter to James Monroe, May 29, 1785. The Continental Congress had rejected a committee plan to support public schools in the Western territories, and Madison was dismayed that the committee would even come up with such a plan. Quoted from Richard B Morris, Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries (1973) p. 206. Quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church."

Freedom arises from the multiplicity of sects, which pervades America and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects, there can ot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest.
-- James Madison, spoken at the Virginia convention on ratification of the Constitution, June, 1778, quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

In a free government, the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects.
-- James Madison, from Number 51 of the Federalist Papers, quoted in James A Henretta, The Evolution of American Society, 1700-1815: An Interdisciplinary Analysis (1973) p. 136, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

It was the Universal opinion of the Century preceding the last, that Civil Government could not stand without the prop of a Religious establishment, and that the Christian religion itself, would perish if not supported by a legal provision for its Clergy. The experience of Virginia conspicuously corroborates the disproof of both opinions. The Civil Government, tho' bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success; whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.
-- James Madison, letter to Robert Walsh written "late in his life," in Robert L Maddox, Separation of Church and State: Guarantor of Religious Freedom (1987) p. 39, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

And may I not be allowed to ... read in the character of the American people, in their devotion to true liberty and to the Constitution which is its palladium [protection], ... a Government which watches over ... the equal interdict [prohibition] against encroachments and compacts between religion and the state.
-- James Madison, 1816, Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1: 579, quoted from Gene Garman, "Essays In Addition to America's Real Religion"

Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U S forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them, and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does this not involve the principle of a national establishment...?
-- James Madison, "Essay on Monopolies" unpublished until 1946, cited in Brant, Irving, The Bill of Rights, 1965, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Here [in the Virginia statute for religious liberty] the separation between the authority of human laws, and the natural rights of Man excepted from the grant on which all authority is founded, is traced as distinctly as words can admit, and the limits to this authority established with as much solemnity as the forms of legislation can express. The law has the further advantage of having been the result of a formal appeal to the sense of the Community and a deliberate sanction of a vast majority, comprizing every sect of Christians in the State. This act is a true standard of Religious liberty; its principle the great barrier agst [against] usurpations on the rights of conscience. As long as it is respected & no longer, these will be safe. Every provision for them short of this principle, will be found to leave crevices, at least thro' which bigotry may introduce persecution; a monster, that feeding & thriving on its own venom, gradually swells to a size and strength overwhelming all laws divine & human.
-- James Madison, "Monopolies. Perpetuities. Corporations. Ecclesiastical Endowments," as reprinted in Elizabeth Fleet, "Madison's Detatched Memoranda," William & Mary Quarterly, Third series: Vol. III, No. 4 (October, 1946), pp. 554-55. The "Detatched Memoranda" is a manuscript, written sometime after Madison left office in 1817, in Madison's own hand, with notes he made in preparation for the arrangement and publication of his public papers, a task he did not complete before his death in 1836. Quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church."

Besides the danger of a direct mixture of religion and civil government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations.
     The establishment of the chaplainship in Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights as well as of Constitutional principles.
     The danger of silent accumulations and encroachments by ecclesiastical bodies has not sufficiently engaged attention in the US
-- James Madison, being outvoted in the bill to establish the office of Congressional Chaplain, from the "Detached Memoranda," Elizabeth Fleet, "Madison's Detached Memoranda." William and Mary Quarterly (1946): 554-62. Quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom.

Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments, the real power lies in the majority of the Community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from the acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of the constituents.
-- James Madison, letter to Thomas Jefferson, October 17, 1788, from Michael Kammen, The Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History (1986) pp. 369-70, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church"

I observe with particular pleasure the view you have taken of the immunity of religion from civil jurisdiction, in every case where it does not trespass on private rights or the public peace. This has always been a favorite principal with me; and it was not with my approbation that the deviation from it took place in congress, when they appointed chaplains, to be paid from the national treasury. It would have been a much better proof to their constituents of their pious feeling if the members had contributed for the purpose a pittance from their own pockets. As the precedent is not likely to be rescinded, the best that can now be done maybe to apply to the constitution the maxim of the law, de minimis non curant.
-- James Madison, being outvoted in the bill to establish the office of Congressional Chaplain, Madison's Writings, Vol. 3, p. 274; from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents: From Washington to FDR, p. 90, quoted from Freethought Web, "The Words of Our American Founding Fathers"

I have received your letter of the 6th, with the eloquent discourse delivered at the consecration of the Jewish Synagogue. Having ever regarded the freedom of religious opinions and worship as equally belonging to every sect, and the secure enjoyment of it as the best human provision for bringing all either into the same way of thinking, or into that mutual charity which is the only substitute, I observe with pleasure the view you give of the spirit in which your sect partake of the blessings offered by our Government and laws.
-- James Madison, letter to M M Noah, May 15, 1818 (Madison, 1865, III, page 97), quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Whilst I was honored with the Executive Trust I found it necessary on more than one occasion to follow the example of predecessors. But I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory; or rather mere designations of a day, on which all who thought proper might unite in consecrating it to religious purposes according to their own faith & forms.... Notwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries ... in some parts of our Country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Gov[ernment] & Religion neither can be duly supported.... Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance.
-- James Madison, explaining why he recommended that those who are predisposed to pray should pray during the crisis of the [] war (1822), quoted from Gene Garman, "Your Questions Answered"

"The difficulty of reconciling the Xn [Christian] mind to the absence of a religious tuition from a University established by law and at the common expense, is probably less with us than with you. The settled opinion here is that religion is essentially distinct from Civil Govt. and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurous to both; that there are causes in the human breast, which insure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or overheated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and without a toleration, is no security for public quiet & harmony, but rather a source itself of discord & animosity; and finally that these opinions are support by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between Law & religion, from the partial example of Holland, to its consummation in Pennsylvania Delaware NJ, &c, has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of independence it was left with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change; and particularly in the Sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than, that the law is not necessary to the support of religion.
-- James Madison, letter to Edward Everett, March 19, 1823; from Jack N Rakove, ed, James Madison: Writings, (1999), p. 796, quoted from Freethought Web, "The Words of Our American Founding Fathers"

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Wilson: Early Presidents Not Religious

"The founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [Washington; Adams; Jefferson; Madison; Monroe; Adams; Jackson] not a one had professed a belief in Christianity.... Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism."
-- The Reverend Doctor Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, in a sermon preached in October, 1831; first sentence quoted in John E Remsbert, "Six Historic Americans," second sentence quoted in Paul F Boller, George Washington & Religion, pp. 14-15

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Alley: Rehnquist Wrong About Madison

"This assertion [that Madison was committed to total and complete separation of church and state] would be challenged by the nonpreferentialists, who agree with Justice Rehnquist's dissent in the Jaffree case. Contrasted with the analysis set forth above, Rehnquist insisted that Madison's 'original language "nor shall any national religion be established" obviously does not conform to the "wall of separation" between church and state which latter day commentators have ascribed to him.' Rehnquist believes Madison was seeking merely to restrict Congress from establishing a particular national church.
     "There are three problems with this contention.
     "First, nothing in Madison's acts or words support such a proposition. Indeed, his opposition to the General Assessment Bill in Virginia, detailed in the 'Memorial and Remonstrance,' contradicts Rehnquist directly.
     "Secondly, all of Madison's writings after 1789 support the Court's twentieth-century understanding of the term 'wall of separation.'
     "Third, the reference to Madison's use of 'national' simply misses his definition of the word. Madison had an expansive intention when he used the term national. He believed that 'religious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgiving and fasts ... imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion.' He commented in a similar way about chaplains for the House and Senate.
     "Historical evidence lends no support to the Rehnquist thesis. And clearly Jefferson, even though absent from the First Congress, seems a far more secure source of 'original intent' than Justice Rehnquist."
-- Robert S Alley, ed, The Supreme Court on Church and State (1988) p. 13, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, "Quotations that Support the Separation of State and Church," paragraph formatting added by our editor (Cliff Walker) for easier reading

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Garman: Madison Defines 'Establishment':

"James Madison's definitions of an 'establishment' of religion include: the use of tax money for support of teachers of the Christian religion, the donation of a piece of federal land to a Baptist Church, congressional chaplains."
-- Gene Garman, in "Your Questions Answered," see Madison's essays, "Memorial and Remonstrance," and "Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, Ecclesiastical Endowments" (printed in Garman's book America's Real Religion), also Madison's essays "Madison's Veto Messages," "Ecclesiastical Encroachments," and "Establishments of Religion" (posted on Garman's web site web site)

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Phony James Madison Quotations
Popularized by David Barton of WallBuilders, Inc.

Old Glory secretly signals distress, knowing full well what happens when you say bad things about religion.

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"The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries."
-- James Madison, letter objecting to the use of government land for churches, 1803, quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

    A diligent search for the source of this quotation is underway among Madison scholars and our correspondent, James Haught. No source has, at this time, been found; thus, we have deleted it from the regular section of our Madison page and moved it here (November 26, 2004). Until such time as this quotation can be verified as genuine, we strongly recommend discontinuing the use of this quip. Should verification be found, we will restore it and note that activity here.

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Complete Fabrication:
David Barton"We have staked the whole future of American civilization not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments."
-- Complete Fabrication; sentiments not found in any known Madison writings and "inconsistent with everything we know about Madison's views on religion and government," say noted Madison historians

    This is a complete fabrication that dates back to the 1950s. A variation of this fabrication -- and there are several -- was read into the Congressional Record by Representative Dannemeyer on October 7, 1992. Another variation was later read into the Congressional Record by Florida Representative Scarborough on March 5, 1997, in defense of Judge Roy Moore's practice of posting a condensed version of the Protestant variant of the first tables of stone rendition of the Hebrew Decalogue on his courtroom wall, in full view of the Jury Box containing what would otherwise have been an impartial jury. Scarborough used this fabrication long after David Barton, its most vehement proponent, had declared the alleged quotation "false" and had asked people to stop using it (see Rob Boston's 1996 article "Mything in Action: David Barton's 'Questionable Quotes'").

    The fabrication appears on page 120 of David Barton's stunningly popular book The Myth of Separation. In the footnote, Barton cites:

      "Harold K Lane, Liberty! Cry Liberty! (Boston: Lamb and Lamb Tractarian Society, 1939) pp. 32-33. See also Fedrick Nyneyer, First Principles in Morality and Economics: Neighborly Love and Ricardo's Law of Association (South Holland Libertarian Press, 1958), pp. 31."

    Unfortunately for Barton's cause (and for his credibility as a man of truthfulness), John Stagg and David Mattern, editors of The Papers of James Madison issued the following statement concerning this misquotation:

      "We did not find anything in our files remotely like the sentiment expressed in the extract you sent us. In addition, the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison's views on religion and government, views which he expressed time and time again in public and in private." (Letter dated November 23, 1993, to which the editors refer all who inquire about this falsehood.)

    The fabrication appears in Lane's book, say Stagg and Mattern, but only in an article by Nyneyer titled "Neighborly Love and Ricardo's Law of Association" (in Progressive Calvinism vol. 31, 1959), not a book; the article gives as its source the 1958 calendar of Spiritual Mobilization. So this appears to be a fabrication for a motivational calendar, but the trail seems to end here.

    Much of the above information is based on an article by noted University of Richmond historian Robert S Alley, "Public Education and the Public Good," published in the William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Summer 1995, pp. 316-318, although some is original to Positive Athiesm.

    See our "Which Ten Commandments?" for two comparisons: First we compare the Hebrew listing with the Protestant and Roman Catholic listings (the Protestant and Roman Catholic each omitting Commandments included in the Hebrew list). Then we compare the vast differences between the first tables of stone (those commonly known, from Exodus 20) which were allegedly smashed by Moses and replaced with a new set of tables, which set allegedly superceded the first set (very obscure; not popularly known, from Exodus 35). We also offer a free printable Acrobat file of our handbill explaining this very problematic question of "Which Ten Commandments?"

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Gross Misquotation:
The Great Satan"Religion is the foundation of government."
-- Cut-and-Paste Misquotation, derived from "Memorial and Remonstrance"

    This misquotation is floating around the Christian Religious Right and the conservative talk shows. It is part of an attempt to promote the (false) notion that the United States has always been a Christian nation and that Founding Fathers of the United States were all pious Christians. Nothing could be further from the truth. The busiest culprit in this scheme of history revisionism is David Barton of WallBuilders, Inc. Most often, the misquotation is represented as "Religion [is] the foundation of government" or even "Religion ... [is] the foundation of government" -- putting on a veneer of honest scholarship by "admitting" that this phrase has been extracted from a larger sentence. This is a legitimate practice as long as the extracted statement reflects the sentiments expressed by the larger piece; that is, as long as no case can be made that the point made by the larger piece has been changed by the omission. Most often, people use this method to omit or replace parenthetical statements, introductory language, awkward grammatical constructions, archaic language, or off-topic remarks, often rendering the quoted fragment easier to understand than the original wording.

    The clue here is that the citation refers to Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance," a document that strongly supports the separation of religion from government. In putting together this misquotation (which can only be seen as a deliberate misrepresentation of Madison's known sentiments) David Barton (or whoever) gleaned from Section 15 of "Memorial and Remonstrance."

    The words Barton extracted to create this misquotation are shown here in underlined bold red type, within the context of what James Madison actually said:

Actual Statement:
James MadisonSECTION 15, Because finally, "the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his religion according to the dictates of conscience" is held by the same tenure with all his other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consider the "Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of government," it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis.
-- James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, addressed to the Virginia General Assembly, June 20, 1785

    In other words, the individual has certain inalienable rights (religious liberty being probably the most important), and it is the "Declaration of those rights" (the Declaration of Independence) that is the "basis and foundation of government" (in that the Declaration of Independence got the ball rolling for establishing religious liberty as well as many other rights). Pulling these words out of this paragraph to attribute to Madison the notion that "religion is the basis and foundation of government" was, in the words of Jim Allison, "no accident or simple misunderstanding." Persons who attribute this misquotation to Madison may have only a vague understanding (or misunderstanding) of Unites States history, we'll grant them the benefit of the doubt, here; but the person who put this misquotation together (probably David Barton) knew exactly what he was doing.

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