View the evolving versions of the recitation since its creation in 1892.
At the center of our history of church and state is a troublesome irony. What began as an attempt to guarantee religious tolerance in the new world has at various times been commandeered by the most chauvinistic movements America has known. In spite of this, religious liberty has survived as an American ideal—one which we continue to test.
We live in a world of increasing religious pluralism—diversity beyond the imagining of our nation's founders—which suggests fresh nuance to the meaning of religious liberty. This much is clear: our modern conversation has few connections to the social, political, and religious impulses that led to the First Amendment.
Host Krista Tippett and her guests revisit the history and meaning of separation in thought-provoking and, at times, unsettling ways. Charles Haynes talks about his work in the American public school system—the arena in which our modern debates often center. Philip Hamburger describes his research into the surprising, and largely forgotten, origins of separation of church and state. And, Cheryl Crazy Bull speaks about the loss and reemergence of religious expression in tribal public life.
Read the final letter sent in 1802 that contains the phrase "a wall of separation between church and state." Also, compare the draft version of the letter or view the actual image of the final letter.
In the mid-19th century, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority took up the banner of church-state separation as a means to keep Catholics out of public life. They claimed that Catholics held an overriding allegiance to the Roman Church and its government by the pope. The lines of this sermon illustrate this prejudice.
Philip Hamburger references the KKK, in the early 20th century, as one of the most prominent anti-Catholic, pro-separation forces in America. An excerpt of this oath from that era is both racist and distinctly in favor of separation.
Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum
Chapter 2: The Educational Framework
What is the meaning of love — and what is the difference between sexuality and love?
What does justice require of me — and of my country?
When am I obligated to sacrifice my own good for that of someone else?
What are the deepest sources of joy in life?
How did the world begin?
What sense can we make of suffering and of death?
Is there progress in human affairs ? and if so why? Is there a God? And how do I know any of this?
About the Image
The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Voices on the Radio
is an author, educator, and director of the First Amendment Center's educational program in schools.
is an author and John P. Wilson professor of law at the University of Chicago.