Monday, December 30, 2013

The Connecticut Model

As I have noted before, a number of scholars make a good case that whereas the Free Exercise Clause neatly incorporates via the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment, the Establishment Clause does not. During the time of the American Founding, religion (as well as the rest of the Bill of Rights) was left to the states.

Perhaps the following observation is incorrect, but the states seemed arguably more unified in their commitment to Free Exercise principles than on Establishment policy. To emphasis the differences America's states had on Establishment policy during the Founding era, V. Phillip Munoz invoked "Virginia" and "Massachusetts" as book ends. Virginia, after T. Jefferson, J. Madison and their evangelical Baptist allies, was more secular (or disestablishmentarian). Massachusetts, after J. Adams, not only had a state establishment system, but was the last state to disestablish (it did so in 1833).

But I discovered some interesting things about Massachusetts' establishment. From the very beginning, unitarians were in positions of power in that state. Indeed, the defender of Massachusetts' establishment, President Adams, was himself a fervent unitarian when he termed it "[A] Most Mild and Equitable Establishment of Religion."

Further illustrating the religious liberalism of Massachusetts during this time was the trial of Universalist John Murray in 1783 where Judge Dana construed the State's religion clauses in a most liberal way to cover not just unitarians and universalists, but also non-Christians. It was ultimately the inclusion of unitarians that acted as a "poison pill" for Massachusetts' establishment that led to its end in 1833.

What I'm leading up to is, perhaps, we need to rethink the model of Virginia as a Secular Left and Massachusetts as a Religious Right state on Establishment policy during the time of the Founding. Perhaps Massachusetts had, for their day, a Religious Left establishment policy model.

A better candidate for a Religious Right model during America's Founding is Connecticut. See here. Perhaps Timothy Dwight, that great foe of "infidelity," exercised his political power to influence his state's religion policy towards illiberality. John Adams, himself, would have been prosecuted under Connecticut's laws for his anti-Trinitarian sentiments.

It's no wonder then in 1817, the year of Dwight's death, when Connecticut elected as Governor, Republican, Oliver Wolcott who would help his state finally disestablish the next year, Jefferson and Adams rejoiced.

No comments: