It can sometimes seem as if we in the 21st century are in a state of greater confusion — greater uncertainty and greater disagreement — than prior generations about the nature of our constitutional commitments. And yet often this is not so at all. One example involves the perennial academic contestation about the meaning of the Establishment Clause, which has a rich history all its own.
Today’s classic revisited is Robert Cord’s Separation of Church and State: Historical Fact and Current Fiction, first published thirty-odd years ago in 1982 (unfortunately, I cannot find an image for the book cover). Cord argued that the strict separationism championed by scholars like Leo Pfeffer a generation before (who was himself engaged in a protracted debate with James O’Neill) simply did not represent a sound understanding of the original meaning of the Establishment Clause. Cord’s was a strike for the “non-preferentialist” interpretation, and it is an account well-worth reading not only for the evidence that Cord marshals, but also for its historiographic importance — as a scholarly moment in the perpetual conflict over the proper relationship between church and state. Take a look at Cord! — MOD