Constitution 101

To Secure These Rights: Economics, Religion, and Character


The American Founders understood the right to religious liberty as an inalienable natural right and the practice of religion itself as essential to the preservation of a free society.

The right to freedom of religion or conscience is limited:

No reasonable religion would ask its adherents to trample on the natural rights of others.

In other words, any religion whose believers demean themselves as good citizens is acceptable in a free society and should be encouraged.

Three main principles guided the Founders’ understanding of economics…

The natural right to acquire and possess private property

The establishment and protection of free markets

A stable money supply, based on a gold or silver standard

The Founders thought the government had a role in promoting good character among the citizen body, because the liberty which it is government’s job to protect is inseparable from virtue.

Moral education or character formation, which begins with the family, is necessary for the preservation of a free society.


Audio-Only Version

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Discussion Questions

  1. Is the right to religious liberty fundamental in a free society? Why or why not? What are the limits of religious toleration?
  2. Why is government needed to establish and protect free markets?
  3. Should government have a role in the character formation of citizens?

Q & A Session

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About the Professor

Thomas G. West holds the Paul Ermine Potter and Dawn Tibbetts Potter Endowed Professorship in Politics at Hillsdale College.

Available on the Hillsdale College Site


Discussion Board


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