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Separation of Church and State

Thursday October 2003


Philip Hamburger John P. Wilson Professor of Law, The University of Chicago Law School

From the Ten Commandments in the courtroom, to school vouchers for parochial schools, to faith-based initiatives in social welfare—the role of religion in public life is among the most hotly debated issues of our time. In his book, Philip Hamburger, one of the leading scholars on the issue, argues that much of what is widely believed about the separation of church and state is wrong.

Although the principle of separation is often said to be an eighteenth-century constitutional right that protected religious minorities, Hamburger shows that it only gradually became a constitutional ideal. What is more, the principle was shaped by mixed motives, including bigotry—with contemporary consequences the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen, and might not have welcomed.