There is a lot of conventional wisdom about the origins of religious freedom in the United States that isn’t true, says church-state expert Carl Esbeck in Today’s Conversation podcast with NAE President Leith Anderson. Knowing the real history helps us better understand our current context and future challenges.

Based out of the University of Missouri, Carl has published widely in the area of religious liberty and church-state relations. He has also served as NAE legal counsel since 2002. In this podcast, you’ll learn:

  • How different states handled the relationship between church and state in early America;
  • Who were the “religious dissenters” that played a prominent role in shaping today’s church-state framework;
  • Why the U.S. structure is so unique; and
  • How early American church-state history applies to our current context.

Read a Portion of the Transcript

Leith: Is the United States the first to do this [disestablishment of religion]? Many European countries still have established churches. Has any country ever had the level of religious freedom that the United States was embarking on in its early century?

Carl: America is unique. In fact, disestablishment of religion is America’s only contribution to political philosophy. America was the first to try items of political philosophy, but they had their origin in Europe like separation of powers. Disestablishment of religion is unique to America. It was thought up here and first practiced here. With just cause, we can say that Americans’ strength in religion — even to this day, even though we’re a modern, industrial nation — is because we disestablished. After we disestablished here in the states, religion exploded and became very strong whereas in Europe, where they continued with established churches, indeed, establishment was bad for religion and religion declined.

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Today’s Conversation is brought to you by National Marriage Week.