Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ragosta at the David Library

On April 10, I saw John Ragosta present at the David Library on his book Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed. I now have an autographed copy of the book.

This is how I understand Ragosta's thesis: There may have been multiple understandings of church-state relations during the Founding; the states each had their own way of dealing with religious liberty and establishment issues. Further, there has been recent, notable, effort arguing Jefferson and Madison's influence is exaggerated and disproportionate.

Ragosta seeks to explain and reclaim why Jefferson and Madison deserve that rock star influence and it's because, they were, well, rock stars of church-state issues while others weren't. (Note: Ragosta didn't, from what I remember, use the rock star analogy; that's my language.)

This reminds me of Harry Jaffa's notion of interpreting Founding principles through their ideals, not compromises with those ideals. On the ideals of proper church-state relations, who can hold a candle to Jefferson and Madison?

Daniel Dreisbach, a scholar for whom I have profound respect, suggests Jaspar Adams. The problem is, as Ragosta noted, Jaspar Adams was a nobody. He's not even a Salieri to Jefferson and Madison's Mozart. Perhaps Joseph Story (a somebody). But Story wasn't a Founder like Jefferson and Madison were.

While briefly chatting with Dr. Ragosta I mentioned perhaps John Marshall. Ragosta mentioned Marshall, unlike Story, was a Founder and would make for a better candidate than Story. And Marshall, likewise, corresponded with Jaspar Adams and seemed to sympathize with him more than Madison did.

Though, beyond the singular letter to Adams, I'm not aware of much that John Marshall wrote on church-state relations (doesn't mean it's not out there).

When I presented at a conference with, among others, Daniel Dreisbach, we discussed the concept of "key Founders" -- the notion that certain founders not only get but arguably deserve disproportionate influence over others.  Dreisbach suggested that our attention to the first four Presidents, Alexander Hamilton and Ben Franklin (I don't think anyone questions those six are the most well known today) may be a modernistic phenomenon, that other, more forgotten Founders were bigger in the past than they are today. I remember him suggesting John Dickinson as an example.

Well Ragosta, in his book, takes this challenge seriously. Through the use of search engines and data, he tries to argue that Jefferson and Madison were back then, as they are today, rock stars on church-state ideals and remained so for a hundred years after the founding.

If someone was bigger and more worthy of the attention and influence on church-state matters, who?

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