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Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State

Recorded on June 9, 2008

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Allison Auditorium

No American living in 1800 would have predicted that Thomas Jefferson's idiosyncratic views on church and state would ever eclipse those of George Washington let alone become constitutional dogma.  Yet today's Supreme Court guards no doctrine more fiercely than Jefferson's antagonistic wall of separation between church and state.  Washington's sharply contrasting views, explored in this new book, suggest a more reasonable interpretation of the First Amendment, one that is consistent with religion's importance to the enterprise of democracy.  Washington considered religion essential for the virtue required of self-governing citizens.  Though careful not to favor particular sects, he believed that a republican democracy must not merely accommodate religion but encourage it.

Tara Ross and Joseph Smith combine a study of Washington's thought with a copious appendix containing the full texts of his letters, speeches, and official documents on issues of church and state.  An epilogue explains how Jefferson's separationist perspective achieved its disproportional influence on the modern Supreme Court.