SECRETARY of Education Richard Riley, introducing...

SALMAGUNDI

July 31, 1995

SECRETARY of Education Richard Riley, introducing President Clinton at James Madison High School, Vienna, Va., July 12:

The history of the First Amendment is instructive, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to two Virginians, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who did so much to define much of what we have come to accept as our natural birth right as Americans.

For it was Madison in 1776, then a young man of only 25, who played the decisive role in writing Virginia's Declaration of Rights and formulating the principles of free exercise and of no establishment.

They've come to be really the twin pillars of religious freedom that define the First Amendment. This was a profound and radical break from the past.

America became the first society in history to go beyond toleration to full religious freedom. Years later, in 1785, Madison joined Jefferson in leading the battle to protect religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Madison's memorial and remonstrance against religious assessments remains one of the great documents of American history.

So today we recognize the greatness of what Madison and the other founders accomplished, but we should not see the Bill of Rights as a piece of dry, old parchment locked away in the national attic gathering dust.

It's a vital principle: living, a call to action, a demand that each generation reaffirm their connection to the basic idea that is America, that we are a free people blessed by our creator and strengthened by faith who protect our freedoms only by protecting and respecting the freedom of others who then differ from us.

And that's why I'm encouraged by the growing efforts to bring American people together, including the good work of the Freedom Forum, the continuing commitment to open dialogue by the American Association of School Administrators, and many others.

We have a very strong need to create new ground rules for addressing conflict in public education, particularly around the sensitive issue of religious freedom and religious expression.

* * *

PRESIDENT Clinton:

This is a remarkable country, and I have tried to be faithful to that tradition that we have of the First Amendment. It's something that's very important to me.

. . . I grew up in Arkansas, which is, except for West Virginia, probably the state that's most heavily Southern Baptist Protestant in the country. . . . As Secretary Riley mentioned, when I was at Georgetown, Georgetown is a Jesuit school, Catholic school.

All the Catholics were required to take theology, and those of us who weren't Catholic took a course in the world's religions, which we call Buddhism for Baptists [laughter].

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