The “Second Disestablishment”

Steven K. Green

in No Establishment of Religion

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199860371
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950164 | DOI:
The “Second Disestablishment”

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During the revolutionary years until 1833, the states undertook what might be described as a “first disestablishment,” where their official religions were eliminated through the political process in state legislatures. Nevertheless, a de facto “Protestant establishment” continued in many of the states through much of the nineteenth century, illustrated perhaps most strongly in a generic Protestant education that was offered in public schools. This chapter rejects the “false choice” in Establishment Clause interpretation that assumes either that the founders intended the Establishment Clause to separate church and state, or that they believed that a generic Protestant religion was consistent with the Constitution. Rather, the nineteenth century witnessed an evolution in Americans’ developing understanding about the appropriate constitutional relationship between church and state with an increasing effort to discontinue favoritism of generic Protestantism and religion. This discontinuation, largely a result of legal challenges to fairness and equality of the Protestant establishment, should understood to be a “second disestablishment.”

Keywords: Establishment Clause; first disestablishment; Protestant establishment; second disestablishment

Chapter.  12831 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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