David L. Cook lauds the House of Representatives for encouraging public schools to post the Ten Commandments [letters, June 23] and asserts that James Madison once said, "We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of all of us to govern ourselves based upon the Ten Commandments of God."
This quotation is frequently cited by activists on the religious right, but there's no evidence Madison ever said it.
Six years ago, the curators of the Madison Papers at the University of Virginia investigated this alleged quotation. They could find no original source for it and added that it was inconsistent with Madison's views on religion and government. Many leaders of the religious right subsequently advised their followers to stop using the quotation. Apparently, not everyone got the message.
What did Madison really think about church-state separation? In an 1819 letter to Robert Walsh, he wrote, "[T]he number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State." You can look that one up.
The writer is assistant director of communications at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.