About This Book
Solemn Reverence vividly portrays both the history of the separation of church and state and the various attempts to undermine that wall of separation. Despite the fact that the First Amendment and the separation of church and state has served the nation remarkably well, Balmer shows that previous episodes and ongoing efforts indicate its future is by no means assured.
An unprecedented experiment in church-state relations, the First Amendment to the US Constitution codified the principle that the government should play no role in favoring or supporting any religion, while allowing free exercise of all religions (including unbelief). More than two centuries later, the results from this experiment are overwhelming: The separation of church and state has shielded the government from religious factionalism, and the United States boasts a diverse and salubrious religious culture unmatched anywhere in the world. At various times throughout American history, however, and continuing to the present, special interests have sought to whittle away at the wall of separation between church and state -- by seeking to declare that the United States is a "Christian nation," by installing religious symbols in public spaces, by allowing tax-exempt entities to engage in partisan politics, or by diverting taxpayer funds for the support of religious schools.
Randall Balmer (Ph.D., Princeton University), a prize-winning historian and Emmy Award nominee, is the John Phillips Professor in Religion at Dartmouth College, the oldest endowed chair at the college. Before coming to Dartmouth in 2012, he was professor of American religious history at Columbia University for twenty-seven years, and he has been a visiting professor at Princeton, Yale, Drew, Emory, and Northwestern universities and in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Evangelicalism in America and Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter. His second book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America, now in its fifth edition, was made into a three-part series for PBS. He has written and hosted two other documentaries for PBS, and he is working on another, a history of the Orthodox Church in Alaska. Dr. Balmer's commentaries about religion in America have appeared in newspapers across the country, including the Los Angeles Times, the Des Moines Register, the Washington Post, the Santa Fe New Mexican, and the New York Times.
Dr. Balmer was ordained an Episcopal priest in 2006.
"This moving and sprightly book is filled with backstories from America's struggle for religious freedom that I'll bet you have never heard before . . . a brilliant scholar's telling insights on the right way for church, state and society to interact." - E.J. Dionne Jr., author of Code Red and Why the Right Went Wrong
"This insightful and timely study highlights significant ideas and events related to the separation of church and state in the US from the colonial era to the present. Amid relentless debates and frequent misunderstandings on the subject then and now, Solemn Reverence sets the historical record straight." -- Bill J. Leonard, Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and Church History Emeritus at Wake Forest University
This truth-telling book is the most succinct account now available of the history of government's relation to religion in the United States. If you must read only one book on this exceptionally important topic, this new work by the distinguished historian of American religion, Randall Balmer is the one to read. -- David A. Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley, and author of After Cloven Tongues of Fire
"Solemn Reverence is what we need right now: an antidote to the persistent threat of Christian Nationalism. Randall Balmer gives us an accessible and timely reminder of our country's powerful, if far from perfect, religious liberty history. It is a reminder of the wisdom and success of the separation of church and state." -- Holly Hollman, general counsel at BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty)
"In a concise and wonderfully clear historical review of important episodes intended to defend the principle of church-state separation, Randall Balmer has provided religious Americans with a powerful reminder of their stake in the matter. The Baptist minister Roger Williams, long before the writing of the Constitution, warned churches not to get involved in the 'wilderness' of worldly politics. American Baptists remained staunch champions of church-state separation until the end of the twentieth century. What they have risked in forgetting Williams' warnings is only now becoming clear." -- R. Laurence Moore, author of Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans