William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


The issue of religion and the role it should play in government has long evoked spirited debate. Recently, an argument has been made that the "separation" between religion and politics has played a large factor in what many consider to be our nation's "moral decay. " Such an argument, however, is not new.

In reviewing Religion and Politics in the Early Republic: Jasper Adams and the Church-State Debate, edited by Daniel L. Dreisbach, James Knicely examines the power of elected government to act benevolently toward religion and the moral values associated with it in light of today's social ills. Religion and Politics in the Early Republic includes a noted sermon given by Jasper Adams in the 1800s. Knicely establishes that among the four "interests" Jasper Adams conceived as important to an understanding of American culture, religion was the most important. At the time Adams made such an argument, Adams believed that a growing indifference to Christian values in America's political institutions threatened the foundation of civil society. Knicely also examines the reaction that Jasper Adams's viewpoint evoked from other scholars and statesmen, such as James Madison, John Marshall, and Joseph Story, thus providing a unique look at the opinions regarding religion and government among the generation that produced the First Amendment. Knicely then poses the idea that Jasper Adams could be correct; instead of turning to money and welfare programs to solve a "moral decay" crisis, it might be more helpful to encourage religious and moral values.