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That Serpentine Wall of Separation

44 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2003 Last revised: 14 Dec 2015

John Witte Jr.

Emory University School of Law


The wall of separation between church and state has been an abiding metaphor in the history of Western thought, and especially in the history of American law. This essay reviews two important new volumes that trace the evolution, and escalation, of separationist thought in America from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. While heartily commending these two books, this essay calls for a fuller appreciation of the historical antecedents of American separationist thought, a more nuanced account of the multiple understandings of separationism at the American founding, and a greater appreciation for the multiple principles of religious liberty that buttressed and buffered the principle of separation of church and state in the history of American law.

Keywords: Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Establishment Clause, Legal History

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, That Serpentine Wall of Separation. “That Serpentine Wall of Separation,” Michigan Law Review 101 (2003): 1869-1905 ; Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 03-3. Available at SSRN: or

John Witte (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
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