Did the Founding Fathers want a strict separation of church and state? Yes. Did they want the government to actively support religion? Er, yes. That too. The problem is, it depends on which Father you?re talking about. For instance, as president, John Adams instituted highly religious, national fasting days. But when Jefferson became president he stopped them because he thought them a violation of the First Amendment.

So I?m imagining that if we had Washington, Adams, Madison, and Jefferson locked in a room debating this, they would disagree on the interpretation of the First Amendment. Here?s a cheeky fantasy bound to cause strokes among religious conservatives: after a couple of hours of deadlock, the Founding Fathers would conclude that the First Amendment is so ambiguous that the courts (?boooooo?) must be enlisted to figure it out!

But what do you think? Here?s today’s poll (and shameless Beliefnet self-promotion vehicle): Were the Founding Fathers alive today, would they think we had too much separation of church and state or too little?

Steve Waldman

Steven Waldman, a Washington Monthly contributing editor, is the co-founder of Report for America, a national service program for journalists.