Tim Pawlenty recently  told  Iowa’s Faith and Freedom Coalition the following:

We need to remember as others try to push out or marginalise people of faith—we need to remember this and always remember it—the constitution was designed to protect people of faith from government, not to protect government from people of faith.

Cute as the phrasing is—shades of ” religion requires freedom just as freedom requires religion ” in its  chiasmic  form—there’s a lot of confusion in those 43 words.

Yes, the constitution did seek to protect people of faith from government. One of the ways it sought to do so was by banning Congress from establishing religions. With the benefit of hindsight it looks like the framers protected America against an unlikely threat. It now seems impossible that America would establish a church. But what many Americans don’t remember is that in the founders’ period, government and churches were deeply entwined. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson, a deist, proposed disestablishing the Episcopal church in Virginia. (Many other states kept established churches well into the independence period. The first amendment merely prohibited Congress from establishing a religion.) Patrick Henry counter-proposed that Virginians be taxed for the support of “teachers of the Christian religion” and that “multiple establishments” be supported, not just the Episcopalian one. James Madison, the chief writer of the constitution, sharply disagreed in an elegant ” Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments .”

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