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The Religious Roots of the First Amendment: Dissenting Protestants and the Separation of Church and State Hardcover – June 1, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199858365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199858361
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #641,744 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Miller's tracing of the intellectual threads, strings, and ropes of Protestant dissenting thought demonstrates an impressive familiarity with history and theology, and his book is a valuable historic and intellectual review of the influence of the right of private judgment on separation of church and state.  John Ragosta, American Historical Review.

It is always a joy to read a book that asserts as one of its major arguments that "ideas and beliefs do matter and that they often explain why people act as they do" and that "religious reasons should be accepted as valid" explanations of choice and behavior. Mark McGarvie, Journal of American History

Miller's volume . . . deserves a place on the shelf of all interested in the development of religious liberty in the Anglo-American tradition.  Andrew Murphy, Journal of American Studies

Miller is surely correct that Protestant dissenters, such as the Baptists and the Quakers, have not been duly credited for their intellectual contributions to the development of religious liberty, and he effectively marshals compelling evidence to support his thesis. This volume is a welcome addition to the literature on the pursuit of religious liberty in America.  Daniel Dreisbach, The Historian.

"There is compelling reason to keep the founders' Enlightenment principles at the forefront of First Amendment history... Miller's excellent study reminds us... that a dominant Protestant culture processed them on its own terms."
--hurch History

"[A]ttorney and church history professor Nicholas P. Miller argues that religious thought played a much more important role in the eventual development of the religion clauses of the First Amendment than previously recognized."
--Baptist History & Heritage

"Professor Miller's sweeping study makes a compelling case for restoring theology to a prominent place in the complex web of social, political, and intellectual factors contributing to American church-state thinking. Too often, modern scholarship has assumed that the rights of conscience sprung primarily from the Enlightenment, and Professor Miller's impressively clear analysis reminds us that we must take theology seriously if we seek to take the historical actors themselves seriously."--Donald Drakeman, author of Church, State, and Original Intent

"Nicholas Miller carefully and persuasively demonstrates that many of the most ardent and effective American advocates of the disestablishment of religion were people of faith. These Americans argued that government does faith no favors when it seeks to use civil power to advance religion, and that all people must have the liberty to choose or reject God, or faith commitments are meaningless. Miller is exactly right to suggest that it is long past time for us to give the religious case for church-state separation and religious liberty its due."--Melissa Rogers, Director, Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School

"Nicholas P. Miller's splendid survey of the distinctly Protestant concept of the right of private judgment makes a major contribution to the debate over the religious origins of the First Amendment. The author traces the idea of the sacred freedom of an individual's conscience through an array of pivotal thinkers and offers compelling evidence that the concept contributed to the understanding of James Madison, a leading framer of the separation clause of the Constitution."--James E. Bradley, Geoffrey W. Bromiley Professor of Church History, Fuller Seminary

"The Religious Roots of the First Amendment provides a needed counterbalance to the emphasis on the secular origins of American religious liberty. The author promises to take religion seriously and he fulfills his promise. Especially important is his restoration of William Penn to central importance in the emergence of American religious liberty."--Thomas J. Curry, author of Farewell to Christendom: The Future of Church and State in America

About the Author

Associate Professor of Church History at Andrews University Seminary and Director of the Andrews University International Religious Liberty Institute, Dr. Miller has a JD from Columbia University and a PhD in American Religious History from the University of Notre Dame.

More About the Author

Nicholas Miller (b. 1967) is a lawyer (Columbia University) who has worked on a number of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including representing the plaintiffs in the case of Mitchell v. Helms, and a widely-published scholar with a PhD in American religious history (University of Notre Dame). He is currently an associate professor of church history at Andrews University Seminary in southwest Michigan, where he also directs the International Religious Liberty Institute. Professor Miller lectures frequently both nationally and internationally, and has appeared as a guest on numerous television and radio programs, including Faith and Freedom television show, Freedom's Ring radio program, National Public Radio, and was the founder and original co-host of the Liberty Insider television series. Dr. Miller can be contacted for interviews, speaking requests, or related matters at

Customer Reviews

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Paul D. on June 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I have never read such a comprehensive book tracing the role of dissenting Protestant thought in connection with the foundation of religious freedom in the establishment of America. An absolutely excellent book!

What's inside:

It is easy in nature to consider the beauty and majesty of some ancient tree. Often we may observe its lush foliage and rugged bark. At times it may show signs of wear and abuse as the hostile forces of nature batter its stately frame. And yet how often do we take time to consider the vast root system that enables it to stand - undaunted, unmoved, and solid, amidst the fiercest storm. If religious liberty as found in our first amendment is that tree, in his book "The Religious Roots of the First Amendment" Nicholas Miller delves into the roots upon which that tree stands. These are roots that go back in history and time, which were passed on from generation to generation, and which Miller aptly argues formed the foundation behind much of the dissenting Protestant thought that found great influence among the early American colonies. It was this strain of thought that lead to the drafting of our constitution and the first amendment itself.

At the outset Miller takes us back to the founding of Protestantism. Here we find ourselves at the Diet of Speyer where the term "Protestant" first found its birth. Here also is where the Protestant reform movement not only became recognized as people who believed in justification by grace alone, but also in the right for every individual to interpret scripture for himself. It is this golden strand of thought that Miller traces down through the centuries leading up to the founding of our nation.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By The Ethics Scholar on July 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book traces the powerful role of "dissenting" Protestant thinking on the cultural shift in Colonial America that gave birth to the First Amendment--not only as a legal statement but also as a lived experience. Dr. Miller carefully showed how and why the America experience turned out differently from the European church-state structure, a structure that was framing some practices of Colonies but was being resisted on multiple fronts by some religious groups and key Colonial leaders. He traces ideas on scriptural interpretation and rights of private judgment from Luther to late Colonial theologians and shows that biblical understanding played a crucial role in opening the Colonialists to the liberty championed in the First Amendment. His convincing arguments will both reassure and caution those who want to claim a Protestant birthright for America. He ends the book with possible implications for his reading of history for issues facing American religious liberty today.

I teach at Dr. Miller's university and consider him a close friend. So when I learned about his book, I bought the Kindle version with a plan to read it on my family vacation to New England. My family planned to visit places of freedom mentioned in their U.S. history books. I finished the book on the trip and found it very insightful in helping me appreciate the rich foundation of the theological and religio-cultural influences of American founding ideas of freedom. My 4th of July celebrations will never be the same. I have a deep realization that the birth of freedom in the United States was a wonderful coalescing of great theology, careful political planning, and wise views of human nature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Reed on November 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I was surprised at how engaging and relevant this history was to my thinking about contemporary issues in religious freedom. Understanding the role of dissenting Protestants in the disestablishment of religion in America has helped to clarify and shape my thinking. The book is well researched, well written, and a great read!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I highly recommend this book for those who share my concern for church-state separation that is being attacked and eroded on many fronts in the United States in this early stage of the 21st century. One of the main arguments by Lawyer Nicholas P. Miller is that the historic role of Dissenting Protestants in the shaping of the Bill of Rights, particularly the religion clauses, has often been underplayed or overlooked by influential historians. One specific example is Roger Williams, the Baptist dissenter in the 1600s, who established the Rhode Island Colony, the first haven for all believers and non-believers. Miller points how Williams has been overshadowed by William Penn and his Pennsylvania colony in the telling by many historians. He also documents the influence my fellow Baptists such as John Leland and Isaac Backus had on Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in framing the First Ten Amendments.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful By G on January 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Arrived as advertised and in great shape. It is already on the shelf for our patrons to check out and read.

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