Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1997


It is often said that America's founding was an experiment in government. Certainly few features of the American constitutional settlement left more to future chance--and were more of a break with existing European patterns--than the Establishment Clause set out in the First Amendment. The new Republic sought to rely on transcendent principles to justify its unpre-cedented advancements in human liberty. Concurrently, the Founders reject ed any official or fixed formulation of these principles, for no public credo was to be established by law. So it is more than just a little ironic that the nation's most cherished human rights depend upon the continued private faith of innumerable Americans in creeds and confessions that themselves cannot be officially adopted by the Republic, lest the adoption run afoul of the prohibition on laws respecting an establishment of religion. Yet, coming full circle, it is this “no-establishment principle” that allows voluntary religion to flourish, which in turn nurtures belief in God-endowed rights. The resulting juggling act is what Dr. Os Guinness aptly describes as the still “undecided experiment in freedom, a gravity-defying gamble that stands or falls on the dynamism and endurance of (the Republic's) unofficial faiths.”



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