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Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments

This excerpt is from Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, a pamphlet written by James Madison in 1785.
Author
James Madison
Grade Level

To the Honorable the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia

A Memorial and Remonstrance

We the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration, a Bill printed by order of the last Session of General Assembly, entitled “A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,” and conceiving that the same if finally armed with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound as faithful members of a free State to remonstrate against it, and to declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said Bill,

            1.   Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no mans right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

Source
This text is in the public domain.
Text Dependent Questions
Question
In 1784 Patrick Henry endorsed a bill in the Virginia House of Delegates that would tax Virginians in order to support “Teachers of the Christian Religion.” Based on your reading of the text, how did Madison (the speaker of the text) feel about the bill and what it represented? Why did he feel this way?
Answer
He did not think it was right. He felt that religion and civil affairs should be kept separate.
Question
What sentences in the text support your response to the first question?
Answer
“The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate”; “We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.”
Question
Reread the sentence that begins, “Because we hold it.” a. What does the phrase “the duty which we owe to our Creator” mean? b. What does the phrase “the manner of discharging it” mean? c. Together, what does this sentence mean?
Answer
A. The religion you believe in, the duty or homage (or lack thereof ) that you believe you owe to God.
B. The way or degree to which you choose to practice your religion—which could mean not at all.
C. All persons should be able to decide what they believe in and how they wish to demonstrate that belief.
Question
In a democracy, the majority rules. What warning does Madison give in his final line about the majority and the minority?
Answer
It may be true that the majority determines the rules, but it is also necessary to recognize that, in these decisions, the majority does not have the right to trespass or act against the rights of the minority. Its rights still deserve to be protected.