The Siren Song of History: Originalism and the Religion Clauses
Georgetown University Law Center
Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. 27, p. 101, 2011
Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-130
It is hard to foresee much happiness in the lot of those seeking the original meaning of the Religion Clauses. We may acknowledge the opacity of the historical record, the variety of viewpoints held by founders forgotten and non-forgotten, the humanness of the founders who did not always practice what they preached, even the basic indeterminancy of language; still, we are seduced by the siren song of interpretive certainty. But the search for greater clarity is not without its payoff. As the three books under review here illustrate, the more we look for answers in the historical record, the more we are likely to find ambiguity -- and with each step we take away from the promised land of historical clarity, we move a step closer to the richer, if less certain, terrain of historical truth.
This essay reviews the following works:
The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life. Edited by Daniel L. Dreisbach, Mark David Hall and Jeffrey H. Morrison. Foreword by Mark A. Noll. University of Notre Dame Press 2009. Pp. 316. ISBN: 0-268-02602-5;
Church, State, and Original Intent. By Donald L. Drakeman. Cambridge University Press 2010. Pp. 371. ISBN: 0-521-11918-9; and
God and the Founders: Madison, Washington, and Jefferson. By Vincent Phillip Muñoz. Cambridge University Press 2009. Pp. 242. ISBN: 0-521-51515-7.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 16
Keywords: constitutional interpretation, religion, religion clauses, originalism, church and state
JEL Classification: K19, K00, K39
Date posted: October 22, 2011 ; Last revised: October 29, 2011