How Catholics Became American

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The Cambridge Companion to the First Amendment and Religious Liberty (co-edited)
New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming Spring 2020


This book is an interdisciplinary guide to the religion clauses of the First Amendment with a focus on its philosophical foundations, historical developments, and legal and political implications. The volume begins with fundamental questions about God, the nature of belief and worship, conscience, freedom, and their intersections with law. It then traces the history of religious liberty and church-state relations in America through a diverse set of religious and non-religious voices from the seventeenth century to the most recent Supreme Court decisions. The companion will conclude by addressing legal and political questions concerning the First Amendment and the court cases and controversies surrounding religious liberty today, including the separation of church and state, corporate religious liberty, and constitutional interpretation. This scholarly yet accessible book will introduce students and scholars alike to the main issues concerning the First Amendment and religious liberty, along with offering incisive new insights into one of the most important topics in American culture.

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The Politics of Names in America

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Journal Articles and Book Chapters

“Religious Tests, Loyalty Oaths, and the Ecclesiastical Context of the First Amendment”
Cambridge Companion to the First Amendment and Religious Liberty
Edited by Michael D. Breidenbach and Owen Anderson
New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming Spring 2020

This chapter investigates the two non-establishment clauses in the U.S. Constitution: the no-religious-test clause in Article VI, and the no-establishment-of-religion clause in the First Amendment. Since religious tests were the clearest manifestation of state sovereignty over religion, their prohibition in Article VI elided any notion of a “Church of the United States” even before the First Amendment. The federal oath—Congress’s first act—no longer required a denial of Catholic beliefs as previous oaths had, yet loyalty remained a prerequisite to securing religious liberty. The chapter then contends that the First Amendment establishment clause was based on what Congress had stated in 1783: that powers in “purely spiritual” matters were “reserved to the several States, individually.” Congress had declared this principle in response to the Holy See’s request for it to approve a Catholic bishop, and had thus renounced one of the rights of patronage that governments traditionally held over ecclesiastical affairs. This context adds to the original meaning of the establishment clause, for simply prohibiting a national church did not necessarily forbid this right of patronage.

“Assessing the First Amendment and Religious Liberty in America”
Cambridge Companion to the First Amendment and Religious Liberty
Edited by Michael D. Breidenbach and Owen Anderson
New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming Spring 2020

This chapter introduces the major philosophical concepts, historical interpretations, and political, legal, and economic issues concerning the First Amendment, church-state relations, and religious liberty in the United States. It addresses philosophical concepts such as natural religion, the nature of religious exercise, and the special status of religious liberty in the philosophy of law. It then presents historical developments from colonial America to modern Supreme Court cases concerning church establishments, religious toleration, religious dissent and minorities, religious tests, and the historical and jurisprudential meanings of “free exercise” and “establishment.” It concludes with reflections on natural rights and religious liberty exemptions, originalist constitutional interpretations, corporate religious liberty, the economic origins of religious liberty, the separation of church and state, and contemporary challenges to religious liberty.

“Church and State in Maryland: Religious Liberty, Religious Tests, and Church Disestablishment”
Disestablishment and Religious Dissent: Church-State Relations in the New American States, 1776-1833
Edited by Carl H. Esbeck and Jonathan Den Hartog
Columbus: University of Missouri Press, 2019

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“Jacques Maritain and Leo XIII on the Problem of Church-State Relations”
The Things that Matter: Essays Inspired by the Later Work of Jacques Maritain
Edited by Heidi M. Giebel
Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press/American Maritain Association, 2018

Jacques Maritain wrote in Man and the State (1951) that the “complete differentiation and full autonomy” of the temporal sphere found in the modern, secular age fulfilled the “very distinction between God’s and Caesar’s domains” found in the Gospel. Thomas Pink has argued that such a view is incompatible with what he calls the “Leonine model” of soul-body union articulated by Pope Leo XIII in Immortale Dei (1885). Pink’s claim that Maritain opposed Leonine teaching on Church-state relations, however, does not succeed for two reasons. Firstly, his conclusion overlooks critical qualifications in Man and the State that saves Maritain’s theory from advancing a strict separationist view of Church-state relations. Secondly, Pink ignores one of Maritain’s early works, Things that are not Caesar’s (1931), which reveals his full support of Leonine teaching in the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Robert Bellarmine. Nevertheless, Pink’s critique of Maritain occasions important reflections on the relationship between principles and practicalities in the debates over Church and state. While Maritain’s view does not contradict what he and Leo XIII considered to be the immutable principles of Church-state relations, it remains to be seen whether Maritain’s practically attainable ideal is still, in fact, practically attainable.

“Conciliarism and the American Founding”
William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 73, no. 3 (2016): 467-500

Conventional understandings of Catholicism, especially the claim that the pope held temporal power over all civil rulers, presented a signal challenge to early American Catholics' civil and religious liberty. Yet reform-minded Catholics in the North Atlantic world asserted their independence from the temporal powers of external authorities, including the pope. Catholics who participated in the American founding, such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton and John Carroll, drew from an intellectual tradition of conciliarism that was rooted in Catholic thought yet compatible with republicanism. The Carrolls' public support of the nation's foundational documents and their development of the American Catholic Church presented to the broader political and religious public a Catholic tradition that advocated not only a republican view of temporal independence but also a juridical, nonhierarchical understanding of church and state. Catholics of this sort were not a foil to American religious and political arrangements; instead, they fit their beliefs within the ideologies of the American founding and thereby answered Protestant charges that Catholics should be legally penalized. These conclusions offer compelling reasons to include the conciliarist tradition within the “multiple traditions approach” of American founding historiography.

“Aquinas on Tyranny, Resistance, and the End of Politics” (co-authored)
Perspectives on Political Science 44, no. 1 (2015): 10-17

This study argues that Aquinas’ account of tyranny grants citizens a surprisingly wide ambit for resistance to tyrants but that such actions demand a tall order for even the most virtuous citizens: knowledge of the hierarchy of ends in politics and the prudence to apply it under the pressure of a tyrannical government. We consider sections of the Summa Theologiae and De Regno, Aquinas’ most sustained discussion of tyranny, to demonstrate the theoretical illumination that the former provides of the latter. De Regno, we argue, presents a negative teaching of the best regime and citizen, one in which citizens are shown the need for their own virtue in discerning the roots of tyranny and their remedy. With the Summa, we show how such prudential decisions fit within the orders of charity and piety: the citizen must come to see love of country as intrinsically ordered to love of family and God. Ultimately, Aquinas’ resistance theory rests on a hierarchy of ends for civil government that orders both ruler and citizen to God.

© Michael D. Breidenbach 2017-2019