Volume 30, Issue 1/2, 2018
The American Experiment: A Republic, If You Can Keep It
William R. Clough
The First Freedom
Religion in the American Republic
The Founders of the United States had waged a war in the name of liberty. Yet shortly after independence they discovered, with the Articles of Confederation, that liberty did not make for a durable Republic. So they crafted the United States Constitution to form a more perfect union. Well aware of how flawed human nature is, they created a strong republican government with three co-equal branches overseeing a union of states, each ruled by laws passed, executed, and judged by their democratically elected representatives. Religious freedom was a particularly thorny issue; institutions of religion are where people exercise freedom of conscience. Religions form powerful interest groups, motivated by high ideals, but are corruptible, sometimes unrealistic, and often inflexible as to how their ideals are to be lived out in society. America’s Founders followed the hard road of refraining from either endorsing or restricting any establishment of religion, but submitting religious individuals to the rule of law. The courts have had to sort out how those ideals are to be applied in actual cases ever since.