"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."
- First Amendment of the United States Constitution
The words seem so straightforward and simple. Yet no other part of the Constitution of the United States is so misunderstood and misconstrued as the First Amendment, particularly the first ten words, which deal with freedom of religion. Bestselling author Stephen Mansfield delves into the history of the amendment that has caused more uproar and more court battles than any other in his outstanding new book Ten Tortured Words: How the Founding Fathers Tried to Protect Religion in America...and What's Happened Since.
Mansfield, who has spent many years working on behalf of religious liberty all over the world, starts with a careful examination of the Founders' original intent in crafting the First Amendment. He takes the reader back inside the debates within the Constitutional Convention. By relying on the transcripts from the Convention, he shares the Founders' thoughts in their own words. As the original intent behind the amendment is revealed, it is easy to see how these ten words have been so twisted over time.
But the story doesn't just end there. In fact, the drafting of the amendment is really only the beginning of the story. Mansfield moves on to a detailed examination of the man whose words in a private letter have become the basis for almost all battles over religious liberty in the United States for the past sixty years: Thomas Jefferson.
On January 1, 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut. The Danbury Baptists had written to Jefferson regarding concerns they had about the government's role in religion. Jefferson's reply included a phrase that has since become familiar to many Americans: "a wall of separation between church and state". Although Jefferson's intent was to simply emphasize that the First Amendment prohibited the federal government from establishing any particular religion (similar to the Church of England in Britain), many courts have taken the phrase to mean that the government should not have any role in religion and vice versa.