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Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State

Recorded on November 12, 2002

Location:
The Heritage Foundation's Van Andel Center

No phrase in American letters has had a more profound influence on church-state law, policy, and discourse than Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state," and few metaphors have provoked more passionate debate. The "wall," in our time, has become the locus classicus of the notion that the First Amendment separated religion and the civil state, thereby mandating a secular polity. American University professor Daniel L. Dreisbach argues that the "wall" is used today in ways that its architect almost certainly would not recognize and, perhaps, would even repudiate. Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State offers an in-depth examination of the origins, controversial uses, and competing interpretations of this powerful metaphor in law and public policy.

This meticulously researched, balanced, and engaging book, written for both specialist and nonspecialist readers, casts new light on Jefferson's trope and challenges conventional interpretations of the "wall of separation."

Daniel L. Dreisbach, D.Phil. (Oxford University) and J.D. (University of Virginia), is a Professor in the Department of Justice, Law, and Society at American University. He is the editor of Religion and Political Culture in Jefferson's Virginia (2000) and Religion and Politics in the Early Republic (1996).