Historical consciousness among Americans today does not run very deep. We tend to confront each public issue as though it was emerging for the first time, divorced from the earlier history of the nation. Contemporary debate on the relationship between church, state and school is no exception.

When history is called in at all, it is usually for rhetorical purposes. Those arguing against school prayer or tuition tax credits go to great lengths to cast Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and other founders of the American nation as largely secularized "free thinkers," or as Deists "at worst." Those pressing for enhanced religious presence in elementary and secondary schools commit similar sins. For example, the over-zealous publisher of one otherwise-respectable book on the framers of the Constitution, placed on his dustcover the claim that "50 (and perhaps 52) of the 55 Framers of the United States Constitution were Christians. Not humanists, not Deists, not agnostics — Christians!"