Endowed by Our Creator


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The Birth of Religious Freedom in America

Michael I. Meyerson

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Rejecting the extreme arguments of today's debates, the author examines what the framers of the Constitution actually said about religious freedom

The debate over the framers’ concept of freedom of religion has become heated and divisive. This scrupulously researched book sets aside the half-truths, omissions, and partisan arguments, and instead focuses on the actual writings and actions of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and others. Legal scholar Michael I. Meyerson investigates how the framers of the Constitution envisioned religious freedom and how they intended it to operate in the new republic.

Endowed by Our Creator shows that the framers understood that the American government should not acknowledge religion in a way that favors any particular creed or denomination. Nevertheless, the framers believed that religion could instill virtue and help to unify a diverse nation. They created a spiritual public vocabulary, one that could communicate to all—including agnostics and atheists—that they were valued members of the political community. Through their writings and their decisions, the framers affirmed that respect for religious differences is a fundamental American value. Now it is for us, Meyerson concludes, to determine whether religion will be used to alienate and divide or to inspire and unify our religiously diverse nation.

Michael I. Meyerson is Wilson H. Elkins Professor of Law and Piper & Marbury Faculty Fellow, University of Baltimore School of Law. He is the author of Liberty's Blueprint, a history of the writing of the Federalist Papers. He lives in Ellicott City, MD.

"A painstaking, insightful study that to me is thoroughly persuasive."—Ralph Ketcham, author of James Madison: A Biography

"Meyerson has the advantage of being a first-rate story teller with an eye for the surprising anecdote. This book is more fun to read than a lot of what is written in this area and also more responsive to contemporary debates."—Andrew Koppelman, author of Right to Discriminate

"Michael Meyerson’s new book, Endowed by Our Creator, enters the hotly contested and heavily trodden debate over the Founders’ understanding of the proper relationship of church and state with a bristling new interpretation. Recapturing the original terms on which the Founders thought about issues of church and state allows Myerson to transcend contemporary exchanges between those who hope to use government to accommodate religion and proponents of strict separation of church and state. The “original wisdom” of the Founders, Myerson convincingly establishes, is found in their reluctance to support narrow sectarian policies and taxes for the support of religious institutions, but nevertheless their willingness to open the door to government acknowledgement of religion so long as it is inclusive and aimed at the secular purpose of promoting public virtue. This exhaustively researched and fair-minded book should be mandatory reading for judges, politicians, and citizens alike as a sensible middle ground in church-state issues."—Alan Gibson, author of Interpreting the Founding and Understanding the Founding



 "Meyerson has written a brilliant and nuanced account of the views of the Constitution's framers on religion and government. It is an antidote to those who try to simplify the framers' views to fit their conclusions. Meyerson persuasively shows that the framers desired both to protect a role for religion and to ensure a separation of church and state."—Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law

“Well-researched, well-reasoned, well-written; a welcome antidote to so many histories of religious freedom that are both angry and inaccurate. Particularly effective in analyzing otherwise ambiguous evidence to explain why the Founders, who understood religion to be "a force both for magnificent good and unspeakable evil," insisted on religious freedom.”—John Ragosta, author of Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia's Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty

"A very fine examination of the role that religion, and religious conflict, has played in our American story. Artfully blending history and narrative, Meyerson breathes life into an often misunderstood story, examining the beliefs of our founders, and showing how those beliefs did not always determine their policy decisions . . . This is a wonderful book, a needed corrective to the heat that often defines the current debate."—Publishers Weekly

"As Meyerson shows in this impressively researched book, each side of the sacred vs. secular camp can find ammunition to support its respective point of view. But he regards such partisan exercises as misleading at best and dangerous at worst. That's not because the Founders lacked a clear vision, he says, but rather because that vision was cast in terms of a union in which church and state—but not God and state, or religion and state—would be separate . . . . [The book is] written in clear, vigorous prose. It should be, and, with the aid of divine providence, is likely to be, durable."—History News Network

"Endowed by Our Creator, an engaging volume on a timely issue, outlines a history that should inform the minds of all Americans, religious or not. This carefully researched study ... is both well documented and easy reading. . . . [An] engaging look at religious freedom’s beginnings…. The book would make for lively discussions for ecumenical or parish study groups, especially in the rather charged environment of election-year rhetoric."—Brother Jeffrey Gros, Catholic Telegraph

"In this meticulously researched book devoid of the usual partisan bickering, Meyerson argues it's possible to protect both individual liberty and public religious expression, and he emerges with a strikingly balanced perspective on one of America's most hotly debated issues."—Christianity Today
ISBN: 9780300166323
Publication Date: June 5, 2012
384 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4