Book Provides Look At Founding Fathers' Ideas On Religion And State

July 20, 2000

The role of religion in public life, from prayer in schools to religious symbols on government property, continues to be one of the most hotly-debated subjects in American culture. But what did the framers of the U.S. Constitution envision that role should be? Did they think that the government had the right to advance or support religion and religious activities?

Dr. Derek Davis, director of the J.M. Dawson of Church-State Studies at Baylor Universisty, examines the role of religion in the proceedings, ideas and goals of the Continental Congress in his new book, Religion and The Continental Congress 1774-1789: Contributions to Original Intent (Oxford University Press).

"Many of the men of the Continental Congress participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the First Congress that met under the new Constitution in 1789, and were therefore familiar with the intended meaning of the Constitution's provisions on religion about which there is so much controversy today," Davis said. "The acts and proceedings of the Continental Congress, as well as much of the writing of the members of the Congress, offer a considerable body of material that helps illuminate for us the intentions of the Founding Fathers on such questions as the role of religion in the public schools, posting religious symbols on public property, governmental funding of religious education, paying legislative chaplains with government funds, the role of Christianity in the lawmaking process, the religious dimensions of the Declaration of Independence, and a host of other important questions."

Davis is a nationally-recognized authority on church-state issues and currently serves as the editor of the award-winning Journal of Church and State. He is the author of Original Intent: Chief Justice Rehnquist & the Course of American Church-State Relations (1991), and is the editor or coeditor of nine other books, including The Role of Religion in the Making of Public Policy (1991), Welfare Reform and Faith-Based Organizations (1999), and Religious Liberty in Northern Europe in the 21st Century (2000). He has also published extensively in various law and academic journals.

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