Establishing a particular sect of Christianity

When James Madison said in his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments in 1785 that illegitimate authorities might “establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions,” and "may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects,” did he mean by the latter that some authorities might try to make it to where, say, old-time, end-time, King James Bible-believing churches are the only churches available, and that one would have no other choice for a church outside of those parameters? I was reading what Madison said about that, and, IINM, it seems to me that such was what he meant by that (I may be incorrect, though).

That is the plain reading. What other interpretation do you think there could ha e been?

There probably could have been no other one-- that is a great point! I don’t know how to explain why, but you’re on to something here.

An establishment of religion does not necessarily mean a prohibition on all other religions. In the UK, for instance, Anglican Christianity is officially established. And you could even say that it’s established to the exclusion of all other establishment of religion: Every intersection of religion and government in the UK is going to be Anglican. But non-Anglicans and non-Christians are still allowed to practice their religions freely in the UK.


So, what are the benefits for the Anglican Church of being ‘officially established’?

We don’t have to debate where to hold national services, like memorials, so there’s that!

That would provide a flow of funds to the Anglicans that is not available to other sects.

I read Madison’s position as being hands off of religion. Any attachment of religion to government implies favor toward a sect. ie are the slogans ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘God is Great’ interchangeable? Would God is Great be acceptable on the flag of Mississippi? If not then is ‘In God We Trust’ establishment?

I misread that as what are the benefits of rather than for. One benefit for the Anglican church is political influence, of course - their bishops have 26 seats in the House of Lords.

Does that association provide a moral benefit to the UK?

I think that depends on your perspective.

But there was a time, historically, when this was not true, and this may have been in James Madison’s mind when he wrote that.

There was the Religion Act 1592 that “imprisoned those over the age of sixteen who failed to attend Church; persuaded others to do the same; denied Queen Elizabeth’s authority in religious matters; and who attended unlawful religious meetings without bail.[1][2] … If, after offending, they did not conform in the next three months, they would be exiled from England forever.”

And the Coventicle Act 1664 “forbade conventicles, defined as religious assemblies of more than five people other than an immediate family, outside the auspices of the Church of England.[2].”

A couple points. Massachusetts had an established religion until some time in the 19th century. IIRC, Rhode Island was started by a religious dissident from Mass. (Roger Williams).

At least a couple original states (MA and PA) were founded explicitly by English religious dissidents. The Quakers in PA allowed free exercise of religion. The Puritans in MA did not. And I have some memory that Maryland was founded by Catholics (and perhaps named for Bloody Mary).

According to Wikipedia, Maryland was named after Queen Mary, the wife of King Charles I, while “Bloody Mary” refers to Mary Tudor, the wife of King Philip II of Spain.

It wasn’t true even in Madison’s own time. While non-Anglican religious services were generally tolerated, subject to various restrictions, non-Anglicans suffered a variety of legal disabilities - barred from public office and from some professions, excluded from the universities, etc. The heaviest disabilities were directed at Catholics, but dissenting protestants were also penalised in various ways.

Establishment also means that the CofE has to be open to all in England, e.g., for marriages and funerals - they can’t insist on, say, a record of active membership for those.

You need to pass that message onto some local priests/vicars.

In England, you have a legal right to be married in the Church of England parish church for the parish in which you reside, or for the parish in which you usually worship and where you are on the Church Electoral Roll, or in other churches to which you have one of specified number of links (e.g. the parish church in which you were baptised). But you don’t have a right to be married in whatever church you want.

The right to be married doesn’t apply if either spouse has been divorced, and has an ex-spouse still living. In that case the minister at the church where you would otherwise have a right to be married can decline to marry you. And of course the right to be married is dependent on compliance with civil marriage law.

Everyone has a right to a funeral in theC of E parish in which they were resident at the time of death, if they have a C of E funeral, to have their ashes scattered or deposited in the churchyard. There’s no general right to burial because of limited space for graves.

In colonial Virginia, the Anglican Church was the “established” church. Other churches were usually (not always) tolerated. But even if you worshipped at another church, or none, if you owned property, you had to pay a tax to the Anglican Church.

This policy came under increasing criticism as other religions (Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic) gained ground in the colony, and became completely non-viable after independence. But many people still felt people should have to support some church, even if it was a church of their choice. Churches performed social services via education and poor relief and many people viewed them as indispensable pillars of the community.

Hence Patrick Henry, in 1784, introduced a bill to reform the establishment so that citizens could direct their tax to any church, rather than just the Anglican church. However he did require that the church chosen be Christian.

Madison’s memorial is a memorial against this bill. Madison wanted to end the establishment altogether. As long as the establishment was left in place, he felt, it would inevitably, eventually, be directed to one specific denomination. After all, even Henry wouldn’t give citizens a completely free choice–he limited the choices to Christianity. “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”

The controversy was settled by Jefferson’s Statute of Religious Freedom of 1786, which provided for both free exercise and freedom from any religious establishment.

Maryland was founded by Henry Calvert (Lord Baltimore), a Catholic convert who wanted to provide a haven for Catholics persecuted in England. All religions were tolerated. Even there Catholics were in a minority, however.

The colony was officially named after the wife of Charles I, but the teachers in my parochial school alleged that it was surreptitiously to commemorate the Virgin Mary. I don’t know if there is any truth to that.

The Maryland Toleration Act did provide

But this toleration was explicitly limited to Christians:

There were also provisions that any person who trash-talked “the blessed Virgin Mary” or the Apostles or Evangelists would be fined (and banished for a third offense).