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Endowed by Our Creator The Birth of Religious Freedom in America

The debate over the framers’ concept of freedom of religion has become heated and divisive. This scrupulously researched book sets aside the half-truths, omissions, and partisan arguments, and instead focuses on the actual writings and actions of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and others. Legal scholar Michael I. Meyerson investigates how the framers of the Constitution envisioned religious freedom and how they intended it to operate in the new republic. Endowed by Our Creator shows that the framers understood that the American government should not acknowledge religion in a way that favors any particular creed or denomination. Nevertheless, the framers believed that religion could instill virtue and help to unify a diverse nation. They created a spiritual public vocabulary, one that could communicate to all — including agnostics and atheists — that they were valued members of the political community. Through their writings and their decisions, the framers affirmed that respect for religious differences is a fundamental American value. Now it is for us, Meyerson concludes, to determine whether religion will be used to alienate and divide or to inspire and unify our religiously diverse nation.

Table of Contents

    • Acknowledgments ix
    • Introduction: The Great Seal 1
    • Chapter l Before the Beginning 14
    • Chapter 2 A Tolerant, Protestant Nation 43
    • Chapter 3 The Second American Revolution 94
    • Chapter 4 "We Have Become a Nation": Drafting the Constitution 128
    • Chapter 5 Adding the First Amendment 151
    • Chapter 6 Freedom of Religion in the New Nation 180
    • Chapter 7 Original Wisdom 236
    • List of Abbreviations 277
    • Notes 281
    • Bibliography 335
    • Index 359