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James Madison's Principle of Religious Liberty

American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 1, pp. 17-32, February 2003

16 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2004  

Vincent Phillip Muñoz

The University of Notre Dame


Although James Madison has been invoked by justices and judicial scholars for over one hundred years, Madison's principle of religious liberty has never been fully grasped or adopted by the Supreme Court. Judges and scholars have failed to understand Madison's radical but simple teaching that religion is not part of the social compact and, therefore, that the state may not take religion within its cognizance. This is most unfortunate because Madison offers a doctrine capable of unifying the Constitution's two religion clauses into one straightforward rule. His principle addresses the legitimate criticisms of conservative and liberal advocates who have argued, respectively, that the Supreme Court has been unnecessarily hostile toward and favorable toward religion. Madison thus speaks to the contemporary disillusionment with the Court's religion jurisprudence. A proper interpretation of his thought offers a timely and timeless understanding of the principle of religious freedom.

Keywords: James Madison, religious liberty, religious freedom, church and state, constitutional law, constitution, constitutional law, first amendment, establishment clause, free exercise, american founding, exemptions, legal history, Smith

Suggested Citation

Muñoz, Vincent Phillip, James Madison's Principle of Religious Liberty. American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 1, pp. 17-32, February 2003. Available at SSRN:

Vincent Phillip Muñoz (Contact Author)

The University of Notre Dame ( email )

217 O'Shaughnessy Hall
Notre Dame, IN 46556
United States

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