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In July 1822, James Madison wrote to Edward Livingston, ". . . Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Government." This was about 31 years after Madison drafted the First Amendment (1791) and 35 after The Constitution was ratified (1787).
Shortly before in October 1784, Patrick Henry had proposed a bill that all Virginians be taxed to support "teachers of the Christian religion." Many rose up against this proposal, Madison writing in opposition in 1875 in "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments".
Within this document, Madison, a Christian himself writes, "Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offense against God, not against man."
"As the Bill violates equality by subjecting some to peculiar burdens, so it violates the same principle, by granting to others peculiar exemptions. It degrades from the equal rank of Citizens all those whose opinions in Religion do not bend to those of the Legislative authority."
Madison went on to say, Patrick Henry's bill would be a first step towards establishing an Inquisition, like Europe had experienced in the past. He also wrote, "the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience is held by the same tenure with all our other rights."
These ideas about separation of church and state carry more weight perhaps, than any other letters or documents known, for they come from the pen of the drafter of the First Amendment himself. As such, they firmly establish what Madison actually intended concerning religion and the First Amendment.
Within the 19th Century, three U.S. presidents, James Madison, James Garfield and Ulysses S. Grant, stood in opposition to tax exemptions for religious organizations. Grant submitted a 900 foot long petition containing 35,000 signatures demanding that "churches and other ecclesiastical property shall be no longer exempt from taxation."
Nevertheless, in 1894, U.S. churches received an official federal income tax exemption and, they have been tax-exempt ever since. Additionally, all 50 states and the District of Columbia exempt churches from paying property tax. Religious donations are likewise exempt.
Obviously, as the author of the First Amendment himself insists, it is grossly unfair to the significant and growing percentage of Americans who are fed up with organized religion in general and lengthy sermons in particular, that religious organizations in America should continue to be subsidized by we the people.
It is high time that all citizens of the United States stand up for the First Amendment, demanding that religious organizations be compelled to pay the same income, property and other taxes as the rest of us are required to pay. Why should those of us not affiliated with any religious organization be forced to subsidize those who are?
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