The Origins of Religious Liberty in the United States


Guest Speaker: Marc Arkin, Ph.D.

JCU President Franco Pavoncello opened the lecture on “The Origins of Religious Liberty in the United States” by recalling a conversation he had had about the issue of secularism in the United States; he underlined how stimulating the discussion had been because of the intricate nature of the issue and, since he had been personally amazed by the topic, he welcomed Dr. Marc Arkin, a specialist in the field, with a sincere pleasure.

After President Pavoncello’s introduction, Dr. Arkin took the floor. She opened her speech by stating that, since the topic of the connection between Religion and State is too vast and too complicated to be oversimplified and fully explained in a few hours, it was her intention to give a lecture on the historical development of this relationship.

Dr. Arkin started her analysis by explaining to the audience the “Great American Paradox”: how is it possible that people devoted to Religion are equally committed to the separation of State and Religion? She illustrated stunning figures which showed how the vast majority of Americans today consider themselves to be religious people who condemn as immoral all those who lack religious sentiments. The roots of the development of the separation of Religion and State in the United States go back to the US Constitution, which addresses the topic of Religion only once in the original text. Dr. Arkin defined the United States as the land of contradiction when talking about the “Wall of Separations”, a virtual barrier which marks plainly the borders of State and Religion; in her historical examination, American citizens have proved through time their strong commitment to Secularism, that is, the doctrine which invokes a sharp division between State and Religion.

Professor Harris and JCU President Pavoncello posed thought-provoking questions related to political theory and to the current situation in the United States: how is the American electoral campaign influenced by Religion and Secularism? How can the Wall of Separations and the Great American paradox exist? How did the perception of Secularism change after World War II? Dr. Arkin answered in an exhaustive way and concluded her lecture by counter-asking a provocative question: according to the American voters of all centuries, a politician who does not believe in God cannot be trusted; but is it necessary to believe in a god to be moral?