UMassKnocking on the ‘wall of separation’

Sufficiency, necessity, and religious liberty


Several members of the Texas State Board of Education want to adjust curriculum guidelines to highlight the role of Christianity in American society.

The mayor of Lancaster, California, recently declared that his desert town was “growing a Christian community.”


In his Farewell Address to the nation, George Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

Although these three statements might all seem to be in accord, the “odd man out” is George Washington. The first American president was not advocating an establishment of religion – or anything respecting that end – but rather he was discussing the concept of political virtue, or “republican virtue” — the idea that a society cannot function solely on the construct of its laws; but the good character of its people is necessary to make it work. A good constitution alone is not sufficient.

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The Founders' philosophy – and how it is applied today – are further examined in the University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray.

“It seems necessary, then, that the history and current concerns regarding religious freedom in America be clearly understood prior to weighing in on the contentious contemporary debates. This is precisely the task of Bruce T. Murray's Religious Liberty in America; one that he accomplishes with impartiality and insight.”
Brandon M. Crowe, Ph.D., School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Arizona State University
(from Reviews in Religion & Theology, History and Sociology of Religion, Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Vol. 17, Issue 2, 2010)

Religious Liberty in America is available at libraries throughout North America, and it may be purchased from the University of Massachusetts Press.

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