James Madison was a giant of a man.
Born on a Virginia tobacco plantation in March of 1751, he was the eldest boy in a family of twelve children.
Being smaller of stature and suffering from ill health, he would be unable to see battle during The Revolutionary War. But fight for his country he would in more ways than he could ever have imagined.
Young Madison attended the College of New Jersey, which would eventually become more famously known as Princeton University. At the time, the institution was actually an evangelical seminary.
A protégé of sorts, he studied directly under the tutelage of the college president, Reverend John Witherspoon. This would be where young Madison would develop an untold appreciation for individual rights, limited government, and, most importantly, the freedom to worship.
Reverend Witherspoon was attune to the importance of the development of an internal moral sense, an ethical compass, if you will, which he viewed as being instilled in all human beings by God.
As destiny would have it, Reverend Witherspoon would not only influence young Madison, but he himself would go on to be the only active clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence.
One time during his travels in Virginia, Madison came across a jail in which a group of Baptist preachers were being detained. The ministers had been arrested as a result of their open expression of their religious beliefs.
Madison was so deeply affected by the injustice he had witnessed, he rushed off a prayer request to his friend William Bradford “for Liberty and Conscience to revive among us.” The experience would further spur him on to become a fierce advocate of religious liberty.
He expressed his passion for religious freedom in his involvement with the new constitution that was being written for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Strengthening a clause that was written by George Mason, he transformed the language of the text from a government grant to an inalienable right.
Over the next decade Madison would be involved in various other religious liberty battles. And in 1785, he would pen one of the most powerful defenses of religious liberty ever written, the “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments.”
After the Constitution, as Madison wrote it, was ratified by Congress in 1788 and came into effect in 1789, many leaders wanted to add additional material containing the fundamental rights with which government could not interfere. However, the Constitution itself specifies that the adding of such material can only be done through amendments.
Madison initially opposed the idea of putting additional amendments into the Constitution. As the author of the Constitution, he considered his work so complete that no additional amendments were thought to be needed.
He and his colleagues believed that the Constitution placed enough limits on government, via the separation of powers, to safeguard individual rights.
Madison was also concerned that listing some freedoms in amendments, but not others, would lead government officials to believe that they could do whatever was not explicitly forbidden by the document.
It was providential that Madison had a friendship and political alliance with Thomas Jefferson. He actually served as the third president’s secretary of state.
Jefferson had written a series of letters from Paris, France, attempting to persuade his friend to change his mind about the Bill of Rights. Madison did eventually come to believe that amendments setting forth our rights might impress upon the nation the importance of placing limitations on state power.
Madison became the point man for the Bill of Rights, taking on the mantle not only of drafting the amendments, but of also shepherding the founding document through the legislative process. Drawing on Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights and Britain’s Magna Carta, he wrote the Bill of Rights and presented it to Congress in June of 1789.
The Bill of Rights, which of course includes our cherished First Amendment, was ratified on December 15, 1791.
Among myriad other amazing accomplishments, Madison served as secretary of state in the Jefferson administration. Then following in the presidential footsteps of his friend, he became the fourth president of the United States in March of 1809 and served until March of 1817.
President Madison would be cut to the core if he were here to witness what is currently being proposed in California – a bill that would actually dismiss from service those members of law enforcement who hold certain religious and/or political beliefs.
Under the pretext of seeking the elimination of “hate speech,” the proposed law would virtually place the government in the position of denying police officers the ability to be employed or to remain employed, based on their Christian beliefs and/or conservative principles.
The legislation’s name is a misleading one, the California Law Enforcement Accountability Reform Act. It would require law enforcement agencies to determine if potential hires are guilty of thought crimes. It would also allow existing officers, who are subjectively determined to hold incorrect or unapproved beliefs, to be fired.
The California Assembly Public Safety Committee is scheduled to consider the piece of legislation on April 6. But its language is so broad and ambiguous it stands as a textbook violation of the protections of religious liberty and freedom of speech, which are engraved in the First Amendment.
While our First Amendment rights weren’t specifically enumerated in the original text of the Constitution, Madison ensured that the rights would be enshrined within the amendment process.
He authored the inspired words of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Read it and weep California. Madison is.