James Herrick, professor of communication and chair of the department at Hope College, has had an essay published examining the way that the controversy surrounding the English Deists' challenging of church doctrine in 18th century England influenced the framers of the Bill of Rights.
Herrick's article, "The English Deists' Argument
for Freedom of Expression: Religious Inquiry and the First
Amendment," has been published in the 1996 edition of the
"Free Speech Yearbook," recently released by the Southern
Illinois University Press.
The essay argues that Constitutional framers
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were influenced by the
English Deists of the early 18th century as they developed
their argument for freedom of expression as it appears in
the First Amendment, and that freedom of expression was
inseparably linked with freedom of religious inquiry for the
"Thus the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of
religion is not so much a prohibition on the establishment
of a state church as it is a guarantee of the citizen's
right to critically explore and talk about religious
questions generally," Herrick said.
The English Deists challenged the Church of
England's doctrine that biblical accounts of miracles were
literally true. The Deists challenged the church's teaching
despite the potential of imprisonment.
Herrick has been conducting research on the
English Deists and the "miracles controversy" they prompted
since working on his dissertation for the doctorate he
completed in 1986. He has received support for his research
through a variety of grants and awards, including a
prestigious "Summer Stipend" awarded by the National
Endowment for the Humanities in 1992. His book on the
topic, "The Radical Rhetoric of the English Deists: The
Discourse of Skepticism, 1680-1750," was published earlier