Philip Hamburger and Steven Waldman —
The Long Experiment of American Democracy

For the Fourth of July, a refreshing reality check about the long road of American democracy. We remember forgotten but fascinating, useful history as we contemplate how we might help young democracies on their own tumultuous paths now.

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is the Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. He’s the author of Separation of Church and State and Is Administrative Law Unlawful?

Steven Waldman

is the author of Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty. He is the founder and former editor of Beliefnet and now heads Daily Bridge Media.

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Listen to this wide-ranging public discussion with Bill Antholis and Krista Tippett about the four ways that nations have tried to reconcile religion and religious pluralism in the modern era.

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Paulina Perez signs a giant banner printed with the Preamble to the United States Constitution during a demonstration against the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall.

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The Long Experiment of American Democracy with Steven Waldman and Philip Hamburger left me to question much of what I thought I knew about the historical origins of our religious/political life. It bears a second listen to aid the absorption of a more nuanced perspective. Thanks so much for this bit of History at its best...

I have already listened to this show more than once. In today's world it is hard not to value context when you can find it. Thank you for another great show.

I'm having those very same thoughts!

Philip Hamburger is a gifted scholar who sadly has let his extreme right wing views distort his objectivity and accuracy. For a corrective read Kent Greenawalt (2005) "History as Ideology: Philip Hamburger's 'Separation of Church and State,"' California Law Review 93: 367

I am unfamiliar with Hamburger or his ''extreme right wing views.'' Can you cite some examples?

I did not find anything especially "right wing" in any of the comments. The Founding Fathers were all over the place in terms of their religious views. Likewise the anti-immigrant attitudes of the 1800s were really just as bad as they are today, from the Know Nothings to several nasty mobs. Louisville, KY had a bad one against Roman Catholics -- only for Louisville to become 50% R.C. in the mid-1900s. One especially orthodox Christian founding father was John Jay.

Acknowledging that such a question may have fallen outside the constraints of the topic, it still would have been valuable to ask whether concerns about Catholicism in 19th century America had any warrant. At that time, how did Catholicism function when it was the state religion for a nation? Did it allow for religious pluralism? Indeed, one can look at Ireland as recently as the 1970s and readily see that converting to Protestantism was the sure road to losing your job as a teacher or nurse. And even in present day Ireland where Catholic scandals have brought the church low, there appear "conflicted" letters to the Irish Times about lack of nonsectarian schools and yet the need to remain within the Catholic ones to avoid cultural marginalization. Although I would in no way endorse the actions of the KKK then or now, their fear Catholicism as a state religion needs to be understood in historical context and should not be confused with how Catholicism may function today within a religiously pluralistic society.

Any chance of a transcript? Some of us can't process audio.

Trent Gilliss's picture

Hi Maggie. You can always find a transcript of the program in the upper left-hand corner of each week's episode page. Here's the link: Cheers.

I was surprised that your guest failed to discuss the striking parallels between the way anti-Catholicism was once cloaked in separationist ideology, and the way some groups are promoting Islamophobia today by portraying Islam as a political movement. See, for instance, this report by the Southern Poverty Law Center: .

I don't recall the Irish or German Catholic immigrants waging a 'jihadist' anti-american/democrcy/economic war like some 'cloaking' themselves in Islamic fundamentalism are doing.

Without expressly talking about current right-wing politics, but in the context of religious liberty, this excellent program tried to define the way both the constitution, bill of rights and judicial [supreme court] law have reacted to changing social and cultural elements in America. I was really surprised to understand the role the anti-catholicism [via the KKK] played in the 1947 Everson decision, but it does make sense. Points out the degree to which those 'in power' use 'code' and 'cover' to retain power and control. Young people today, often very vulnerable, seemingly are unable to decipher these power codes. Thank you so much, Krista.

I recommend as an adjunct to this broadcast the Rev. Peter Laarman's recent essay in Religion Dispatches concerning the Fourth of July: .

A quick Google on " Waldensians, Martin Luther, crusades, inquisition" ect., will remove any doubt as to the motives for separation of church and state.
Even so, the state was to be the compass, it's citizens the poles. We the people were never to become a device of government, church or financial institutions.
Please continue to broaden perspective. Aloha

I found the conversation of religion in the early U.S. fascinating. Much of it I knew from my readings over the years, but for example I would have said MA did away with its "state church" in 1850 rather than 1833. Of course it was a mess long before that with the Unitarian - Trinitarian split -- and ironically today the congregational church is part of the liberal UCC.

Jefferson, according to Jon Meacham's recent biography did believe in the afterlife, and continued to know his Episcopal prayer book, in spite of his unitarian stance.

I think that Washington was sworn in on a Masonic bible, not sure how it differs from standard Genesis - Revelation bible.

States differed in their religion in the public schools. KY for example required Bible reading every morning. OH simply allowed some type of devotional to begin the school day.

My personal stance is for complete separation of religion from the public sphere -- more to keep the various religious institutions pure than anything else. "Civil religion" as practiced in the U.S. is a mile wide and an inch deep.

If I may be so bold, this was one of the best On Being episodes I've ever heard. My husband and I literally sat in our vehicle outside the restaurant we were to enter an hour earlier just to listen in its entirety. It explained so much about my youth that I never understood, but witnessed first-hand. My grandfather being refused a seat on the school board because we were enrolled in Catholic school. Those cutting comments I experienced as a child from the local business owners (it was a small town and we were Catholics). Why my great-grandparents, who were straight off the boat from Ireland, were so devastated when one of their daughters married outside the parish to a--gasp--Protestant. Our burning barn, twice. As I grew older, I convinced myself that we didn't experience these things; that they were simply the overactive imagination of someone who would become a writer. My only regret is that i didn't hear this program sooner so that I could have talked to the people who actually experienced this as an adult. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Interesting listen for sure... I recently finished a course called history of christian higher education in America in my master's program. Throughout the course we discussed at length the secularization of American higher education throughout the late 1700-1850's. How ironic that Thomas Jefferson, the deist that started the first non-religious school (uni of Virginia), would be celebrated by religious individuals! Ultimately, the path of secularization and the separation of church and state was a major contributing factor in the decline of the religious state institution.

Thank you for enhancing my knowledge of an interesting topic!

I have to echo the comments of others: the failure to address Catholicism's historical political overreach was disappointing. It wouldn't have had to take anything away from your guest to ask about the church's political structure in places like Ireland or historical Spain or Italy. Not to condone in any way, shape, or form KKK sentiment, I just find it frustrating to listen to Krista only ask softball questions and murmur in agreement with obvious questions like this that come up.

A real tribute to our democracy are the struggles that we have endured to allow each person his or her own strange and irrational (some would say delusional) beliefs.

I listened twice to this broadcast, and still found myself very confused by the second conversation -- I'm going to have to do some homework. I think the thing I found most confusing was the section about how (if I understood it correctly) the established churches in New England were in favor of the concept of the separation of church and state because it offered them some grounds for persecuting Catholics.

This is so far from what that idea means to me that I couldn't follow that section of the conversation very well. Hamburger explained that (I think) the established churches interpreted the separation of church and state in such a way that it allowed them to prevent agents of Rome, as they appeared to envision Catholics, from gaining a place in the public sphere. What actual legislation or court rulings did they hope to use to justify preventing individuals who happened to be Catholic from teaching in public schools?

The interpretation of the evangelicals at Princeton seems more familiar to me -- they were in favor of the separation of church and state because it would allow them, as a minority religion, more freedom. But why would the same thinking not apply to Catholics?

Perhaps a lot of useful definitions and examples were edited out, and I might find them in the unedited conversation. Could that be true? Because nobody ever said exactly what they meant by the separation of the church and state, or what legislation they wanted to see, and maybe it meant different things to the various groups and individuals discussed.

Still scratching my head,

I love your show! Have learned so many things, I thank you. Thee is a person you might be interested in. His name is James Hollis. He is a Jungian Analyst in Houston. He is one of the most wise men I have ever known. Has written many books like "Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life". Tremendous insights, your kind of person. Hope you can check him out. Jessie