of Rights amended to the U.S. Constitution, the first item of which
states: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of
religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
This Amendment, passed
into law in 1791, meant that there would be no officially "established"
religion in the United States. The pluralism
which already existed became the official, national strategy for dealing
with religious diversity. Such an arrangement had never been tried before;
Europeans and many Americans assumed that the state needed an official
religion and that religion would dwindle without state support. The constitutional
settlement departed from this precedent--a triumph of the Enlightenment
for all who believed, as Thomas Jefferson said, that "truth is great and
will prevail if left to herself." It was also a victory for Baptists,
Quakers, and other persecuted minorities who
insisted that the state has no authority to dictate religious belief.