“Multiple Choices from the Founders,” by Martin Marty

October 31, 2005

Source: Martin Marty Center


On October 31, 2005 the Martin Marty Center ran an editorial by the center's founder, Martin E. Marty regarding the separation of church and state. "The 'Founding Fathers,' or 'Founders,' [of the United States] are getting worked over in public affairs, and especially in religious matters, more than ever before. With courts wrestling with issues of church and state, educators fighting over ways to treat faith and faiths in public institutions, and communities battling over the place of religious symbols on 'everybody's spaces' like courthouse lawns and walls, we often find citations from figures like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and so many others. These figures were writing in the context of their own times and are easily misrepresented out of that context, but we can still draw some signals from their works. Fortunately, a new collection of snippets from their writings is available in The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations, edited by James H. Hutson.... Since the Founders differed so much from each other, Hutson offers some conflicting and contradictory comments by these leaders. I used his book while preparing a lecture on Founders' types. First, let it be noted that this whole cast of characters was concerned with 'virtue' and 'morality' in the young republic, and all were favorable to the influences of religion on these. The differences came in on the question of what public institutions should do to privilege and promote religion and its practice... It's our choice which direction to go in, which type to favor."