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Facts and Fictions About the History of Separation of Church and State

John Witte Jr.

Emory University School of Law

Journal of Church and State, Vol. 48, pp. 15-46, 2006

Responding to several new histories of church and state in America, this article warns against the emerging view that separation of church and state is a distinctly American and relatively modern invention that has been used principally to harm religion and religious freedom. The article traces the historical roots and routes of the principle of separation of church and state in biblical, patristic, Catholic, Protestant, and Enlightenment sources. It then shows how the eighteenth-century American founders used this principle to press five religious liberty concerns: protection of the state from the church; protection of the church from the state; protection of liberty of conscience from both church and state; protection of the new states from the federal government in their treatment of religion; and protection of citizens from unwelcome support and participation in religion. Finally, the article analyses the uses and misuses of this principle in the later history of American law.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 27

Keywords: law, religion, theology, church and state, separationism, establishment, free exercise, first amendment, american founding, jurisprudence

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Date posted: September 17, 2007  

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, Facts and Fictions About the History of Separation of Church and State. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1014807

Contact Information

John Witte Jr. (Contact Author)
Emory University School of Law ( email )
1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-6980 (Phone)
404-712-8605 (Fax)

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