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Separation of Church and State [Paperback]

by Philip Hamburger
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 29, 2004 0674013743 978-0674013742

In a powerful challenge to conventional wisdom, Philip Hamburger argues that the separation of church and state has no historical foundation in the First Amendment. The detailed evidence assembled here shows that eighteenth-century Americans almost never invoked this principle. Although Thomas Jefferson and others retrospectively claimed that the First Amendment separated church and state, separation became part of American constitutional law only much later.

Hamburger shows that separation became a constitutional freedom largely through fear and prejudice. Jefferson supported separation out of hostility to the Federalist clergy of New England. Nativist Protestants (ranging from nineteenth-century Know Nothings to twentieth-century members of the K.K.K.) adopted the principle of separation to restrict the role of Catholics in public life. Gradually, these Protestants were joined by theologically liberal, anti-Christian secularists, who hoped that separation would limit Christianity and all other distinct religions. Eventually, a wide range of men and women called for separation. Almost all of these Americans feared ecclesiastical authority, particularly that of the Catholic Church, and, in response to their fears, they increasingly perceived religious liberty to require a separation of church from state. American religious liberty was thus redefined and even transformed. In the process, the First Amendment was often used as an instrument of intolerance and discrimination.

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Editorial Reviews


Philip Hamburger has, simply, produced the best and most important book ever written on the subject of the separation of church and state in the United States. He has laid to rest the historical credentials of the Jeffersonian myth of the "wall of separation," and shown how the notion of separation gained wide acceptance in the nineteenth century primarily due to the pervasiveness of American anti-Catholicism. He has also destroyed the notion that separation is the only alternative to the union of church and state, and demonstrated that acceptance of separation has in fact undermined the vitality of our original anti-establishment notions of religious freedom. Hamburger underplays the current constitutional implications of his historical arguments, but it is clear that this book will have a profound impact on the current law and politics of church and state. (Stanley N. Katz, Princeton University, President, Emeritus, American Council of Learned Societies)

This richly documented and cogently argued book challenges conventional interpretations of separation of church and state as a constitutional standard in American history and promises to reshape the debate on the constitutional and prudential relations between religion and American public life. (Daniel L. Dreisbach, American University)

Hamburger provides an alternate historical and political understanding concerning the development of the separation concept, relying on 17th-through 19th-century religious arguments and social patterns to challenge our accepted understanding of relationships between church and state...This clear historical analysis will be accessible to anyone interested in U.S. church-state relations and civil liberties. Highly recommended. (Steven Puro Library Journal 2002-05-15)

This volume presents the fascinating and complex history of interpretations of the First Amendment in the U.S. and argues that the amendment's antiestablishment clause did not mandate separation of church and state. Instead, Hamburger insists that separation, an idea that may mean far more than the absence of establishment, became a constitutional freedom over an extended period of time, largely through fear and prejudice...Recommended. (S. C. Pearson Choice 2002-12-01)

Hamburger has written an extremely important book. His prodigious learning and ingenious interpretations overturn the conventional wisdom, forcing even the most passionate defenders of separationism to recognize how much of the story of religious liberty has taken on mythical dimensions. (Alan Wolfe Books and Culture 2002-09-01)

[Hamburger] devastates Jefferson's notion of a 'wall of separation' between religion and government, demonstrating that such a notion was utterly idiosyncratic at the time. Strict separation was revived by anti-Catholics in the 19th century and picked up by the court in the 20th, a development for which Justice Hugo Black bore much responsibility. The modern era of judicial hostility to organized religion and its symbols in the public square is directly contrary to what the Framers meant when they prohibited the establishment of religion. Though Mr. Hamburger does not trace the damage done by preposterous decisions in recent decades, this is a marvelous book. (Robert Bork Wall Street Journal 2006-01-14)

Separation of Church and State by Philip Hamburger is, perhaps, the most talked about treatise on American church-state relations of the last generation. It is a weighty, thoroughly researched tome that presents a nuanced, provocative thesis and that strikes even seasoned church-state scholars as distinctive from most works on the subject...Hamburger's fresh appraisal of the historical record adds much to our understanding of church-state separation...Few pages in this richly documented and cogently argued book fail to excite reflection or challenge long-held assumptions. (Daniel Dreisbach American Journal of Legal History)

About the Author

Philip Hamburger is Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law at the Columbia Law School.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 29, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674013743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674013742
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #288,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
90 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most Outstanding Book on the Topic - MUST READ!!! March 22, 2004
Philip Hamburger, John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, has written a meticulously researched account of how the American concept of religious freedom was transformed into the concept of separation of church and state. His central thesis is that this development had very little to do with the constitution itself or even with the late 18th century concept of religious liberty, but was very much a result of fear of ecclesiastical authority and anti-Catholic, or at times anti-Christian prejudice. Hamburger claims, "the federal and state constitutional provisions designed to protect religious liberty have, ironically, come to be understood in terms of an idea that substantially reduces this freedom."
Hamburger begins by tracing the origins of religious freedom in America to the European Continental Anabaptists of the 16th century and the English Baptists of the 17th century who "made arguments about the freedom of conscience." He also discusses the importance of 17th century religious dissenters and Enlightenment philosophers - such as Locke and Milton - and how they "generalized these ideas into conceptions of religious freedom eventually employed by most American dissenters." Hamburger presents the reader with a firm basis in what exactly was meant by religious freedom in colonial and revolutionary America, its relation to the various amendments to state constitutions, and the ideological context for the introduction of the First Amendment to our federal Constitution. He is quite explicit that separation of church and state was not a part of any of these developments and that, on the contrary, separation was rather more of a stigma applied to antiestablishment advocates in order to discredit them.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Constitutional legal scholar Philip Hamburger, formerly a professor of law at the University of Chicago and currently professor of law at Columbia Law School, argues in "Separation of Church and State" that America's modern conception of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause has failed to make an adequate distinction between the establishment of religion, which the founders intended to prohibit, and the "separation of church and state," a later development that was almost never cited by eighteenth century Americans. Hamburger offers both academic and non-academic readers alike a thoroughly researched and engaging presentation of the history of the Establishment Clause and how it came to be misapplied to the detriment of religion in the American public square.

How did the nation depart from a Constitution that guaranteed religious liberty to erect a "wall of separation between church and state"? Hamburger traces the problem to Thomas Jefferson, who in 1802 in his Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association reflected on "that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should `make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.'" Jefferson's phrase would later be adopted by the Supreme Court. Justice Black, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court in Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing (1947), adopted Jefferson's separation of church and state and made it "the foundation of subsequent establishment clause jurisprudence." Five years later, Justice Douglas in Zorach v. Clauson (1952), affirmed Black's basic principle but expressed concern over the extent to which its implications could be taken.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The wall that bigotry built August 30, 2011
By Joseph
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Separation of Church and State The author, Philip Hamburger, offers a well balanced presentation of how sixteen words of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States can be deliberately misconstrued for purposes that its writers never intended and how ten words written by Thomas Jefferson in a letter could become a substitute for those sixteen. Take the words themselves "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...". Now, put them next to "...thus building a wall of separation between Church and State". It is no less than amazing how this transformation could have happened. As the saying goes, "Throw enough mud against a wall, some will stick". Of course if there never was a wall, if one throws enough mud, it will make its own wall!

We are all children of our own culture. When we hear things repeated again and again by people we love and respect, we will seldom question their veracity. Ideas get passed on from generaton to generation. They may change, but they do so slowly and the change is seldom noticed until the idea is totally transformed. That is what happened to our understanding as Americans of this part of the First Amendment. Going back to the beginning, as Hamburger does, makes a huge difference in our understanding.

The book is great reading. Maybe it should be compulsory reading by all of our judges, especially those on the Supreme Court.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I recommend reading alongside notable critiques December 29, 2012
There is no doubt that Professor Hamburger is a reputable scholar; however, his thesis in this particular book has received a number of notable critiques. I recommend reading Hamburger's work alongside the following articles:

1. John Witte Jr. (2003) "That Serpentine Wall of Separation," Michigan Law Review 101: 1869.

2. Kent Greenawalt (2005) "History as Ideology: Philip Hamburger's 'Separation of Church and State,"' California Law Review 93: 367

3. T. Jeremy Gunn (2012) "The Separation of Church and State versus Religion in the Public Square: The Contested History of the Establishment Clause," in T. Jeremy Gunn and John Witte, Jr. eds., "No Establishment of Religion: America's Original Contribution to Religious Liberty. New York: Oxford, pp. 15-44.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Just Sloppy About Masonry and Freedom
This is a book that is definitely worth reading, at the very least because of the almost ferocious research skills of the author on display. Read more
Published on September 28, 2010 by Peter P. Fuchs
1.0 out of 5 stars Propaganda Masquerading As Fact
In one of the latest books denouncing Separation of Church and State as a "myth", Philip Hamburger claims that Separation is "untethered to the Constitution", and that the founders... Read more
Published on January 3, 2010 by BF Hawkeye Pierce
3.0 out of 5 stars Hamburger isn't steak
Hamburger's book seems overly thorough in making extended analyses of the many major elements of the Church/State history of America. Read more
Published on February 7, 2009 by Richard R. Mccormick
3.0 out of 5 stars More than I need to know.
I only skimmed this exhaustive study of the separation of Church and State. Allow me to express my thoughts on the issue. Read more
Published on November 28, 2004 by Ann R. Keye
1.0 out of 5 stars An unnecessary regressive book.
The first step of any nation moving towards fascism/imperialism is comingling of church and state. This book is an unnecessary and irresponsible junk.
Published on October 2, 2004 by lone philosopher
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking but Somewhat Disappointing
The idea of "separation of church and state" today is in much debate as those on the religious right accuse the secularization of America for countless social ills, and... Read more
Published on March 13, 2003 by John Nolley II
5.0 out of 5 stars The debate is over!
What a tremendous contribution to the debate! Hamburger's book is a survey of the development of this phrase beginning in the Reformation, and carrying down through nativist and... Read more
Published on January 30, 2003 by Gene Wisdom
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