founding-fathers-handsFrom Bob Edwards Weekend, interview with historian Simon Schama, on his recent book The American Future: A History:

The bet that America’s founding fathers made about religion in the 1st amendment when they passed the provision that Congress shall make no establishment with respect to religion and when Jefferson and Madison got through one of the most amazing documents in all American history the “Statute of Religious Toleration” the bet was made was that religion would flourish, that it would prosper, that it would bloom on the strictest possible condition: That you never made heterodoxy, someone else’s religion, a crime. You couldn’t prosecute someone for infringing on what other people took to be religious orthodoxy, you couldn’t lock them up. And from that moment, the founding fathers who were mixed in their degrees of devotion. (Jefferson didn’t think that Jesus was the son of God (but he believed he was a great moral teacher, others were more conventional.) But from that moment on, America flew a flag in my view of very great moral grandeur. It committed itself to toleration as a source of civil union. Let a thousand flowers of religion bloom, they will not hurt us. As Jefferson said very movingly, another person’s religious beliefs “neither break my leg or pick my pocket.” That was a majestically brave thing to say. And the first amendment stands. I wish that our wars in places where they rub up against theocracies like with the Taliban weren’t simply viewed as a matter of pragmatic national security. I’m all for charging the ramparts waving on Jefferson’s statute on religious toleration. We should take comfort and a sense of moral decency from that.