Religion and American Law
Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the American Revolution was its separation of church and state. Prior to the American founding, no political order had existed without the sanction of an established, official religion. The King or Queen of Great Britain, for example, was the head of both church and state. The relationship between Christianity and the state in Europe had long been problematic, as the various disputes between Popes and Kings indicate, but this did not undermine the prevailing view that church and state must be united. The religious wars in Europe occurred because of the commitment to this view. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was, then, an epochal event. It was at the same time a simple practical necessity, one might argue, given the religious diversity that existed in the United States. This section of the exhibit explores the development of and ongoing controversies surrounding the twin ideas of separation of church and state and religious liberty in the United States.
This audio is from a webinar discussion celebrating the 225th anniversary of George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew congregation in Newport, RI. Washington’s letter is perhaps the most beautiful and moving expression of the idea of religious freedom in the Founding. For further information on it, go to the website of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom.
This audio is from a webinar discussion of recent Supreme Court decisions on the free exercise of religion, including the Hobby Lobby case.
We intend to do a webinar each October discussing recent Supreme Court decisions on the separation of church and state and religious liberty.