As Ted Olsen's recent CT web log notes, some recent remarks by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on the abortion question have raised once again the question of whether a Christian politician may act on his professed faith-based principles to "legislate morality" for Americans who don't share these beliefs. (Interestingly, this question was raised most famously in modern American politics during the campaign of another Roman Catholic presidential hopeful—John Fitzgerald Kennedy.)

Reading Ted's piece put me in mind of a Christian History newsletter written a couple of years ago by former CH managing editor (and current senior editor) Elesha Coffman. Cautioning us to think twice before assuming we know what "separation of church and state" meant to the founders, Elesha used a few choice excerpts from a CH article by American church historian Harry Stout to illustrate how different their world was from ours. Here is that newsletter:

Debates like those swirling around school vouchers and the Pledge of Allegiance inevitably spark arguments about the religion of America's chief architects. If we could just tease out what the framers of the Constitution believed and intended, the refrain goes, we could settle all of these nagging church-state questions. Several people think they've already found sufficient evidence to close the major cases.

Of the many problems with this line of thinking, perhaps the greatest is that 2002 [or 2004!] is not 1789. As the following excerpts from Yale historian Harry S. Stout's article in CH issue 50: Christianity and the American Revolution should show, even one of the most-studied stretches of this country's own past is a wildly foreign country.

• [In 1775,] there are no presidents ...

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