“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”

While some in the early United States proposed the use of taxes to support churches as safeguards of morality and social order, others argued that preferential treatment for one group put all others in jeopardy. Enlightenment ideals declared religion a personal matter, demanding government remain neutral in matters of faith. Crafting the First Amendment, James Madison anticipated the spirit of Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state, shielding religion from government interference while protecting citizens from having religion imposed upon them.

James Madison Drafting the Bill of Rights, 1810

James Madison Drafting the Bill of Rights, 1810

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Katie Louchheim