The Garden and the Wilderness

Church and State in America to 1789

By (author) David Dean Bowlby

Publication date:

08 December 2011

Length of book:

212 pages


Lexington Books

ISBN-13: 9780739168745

In this well-researched, informative history, David Dean Bowlby examines church and state in the American colonies and the early national period up to the framing of the religion clauses of the First Amendment by the First Congress. Bowlby describes the history of the church and state up to that time as one involving the struggle of religious minorities against church establishments, with increasingly vocal calls for the free exercise of religion, liberty of conscience, and disestablishment.

He shows that when the religion clauses were framed, people feared that the establishment of religion would lead to the domination of one particular denomination or sect, resulting in compulsory church taxes, obligatory attendance at religious services, and adherence to orthodox doctrines and liturgy. By focusing on the relationship between religious establishments and free exercise, he makes the case that the establishment clause and free exercise of religion must be taken together as a guarantee of religious liberty, because where a religious establishment was present the full and free exercise of religion was not. It was this concern that prompted the prohibitive language of the clauses—the Founders meant to protect the latter by forbidding the former.
Bowlby (Motlow State Community College, TN) offers a penetrating examination of the history of church and state relations in America from the colonial years through the construction of the First Amendment. Framing his discussion with the Supreme Court's decision in Everson v. Board of Education in mind, Bowlby argues that both those advocating a strict separation of church and state doctrine and those advocating an accomodationist or nonpreferentialist approach too often base their arguments on theories and ideologies rather than on actual historical evidence. To correct for that deficiency, Bowlby offers a compelling, though not exhaustive, review of church and state relations in early America. Beginning by evaluating broad historical developments in thinking about church and state relationships, Bowlby proceeds by analyzing colonial charters, the diversification of religion in America, the role of religion in the Revolution, state constitutions, and the debates at the constitutional convention and state ratification conventions to gain a clearer picture of the real story of church and state relations. Bowlby concludes that the historical record does not support the broad interpretation favored by the majority in Everson. Summing Up: Recommended.