Many conservatives (along with Ron Paul) promote a revisionist history of the United States in which they deny the intention of the founding fathers to create a secular society with separation of church and state. The Constitution was a radical document for its time in many ways, including breaking from tradition in not basing its authority on religion. The First Amendment elaborates on this point, with both the writings of the founding fathers and multiple court decisions interpreting this as a guarantee of separation of church and state.
Pulitzer Prize winning historian Joseph J. Ellis looks at the accomplishments of the founding fathers from the time of the Declaration of Independence through the early years of the nation in his new book, American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies At The Founding Of The Republic. In looking at the crucial period from 1775 to 1803 Ellis identifies five core achievements of the founding fathers (pages 8-9):
- The revolutionary generation won the first successful war for colonial independence in the modern era.
- They established the first nation-sized republic.
- They created the first wholly secular state.
- They rejected the conventional wisdom that political sovereignty must reside in one agreed-upon location and that sovereignty was by definition singular and indivisible. They created over-lapping sources of authority in which blurring of jurisdiction between federal and state power become an asset rather than a liability.
- They created political parties as institutionalized channels for ongoing debate, which eventually permitted dissent to be regarded not as a treasonable act, but as a legitimate voice in an endless argument.
The third and fourth points conflict with the views of many conservatives, including Ron Paul, who are actually promoting their own personal views as opposed to the views of the founding fathers as they often claim.The religious right has been attempting to impose their views by denying that separation of church and state is an important part of the heritage of this country. Just as there is no controversy over evolution among biologists, legitimate historians such as Ellis write not of a controversy but describe separation of church and state as an undisputed fact. The full description of this core achievement reads:
…they created the first wholly secular state. Before the American Revolution it was broadly assumed that shared religious convictions were the primary basis for the common values that linked together the people of any political community, indeed the ideological glue that made any sense of community possible. By insisting on the complete separation of church and state, the founders successfully overturned this long-standing presumption.