University of South Carolina

Constitution Day lecture to focus on church and state

Issues between church and state will be the focus of this year’s Constitution Day lecture at the University of South Carolina Thursday, Sept. 16.

Dr. Michael Lienesch, a leading expert on religion and politics from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, will speak at 7 p.m. in Gambrell Hall auditorium. The talk is free and open to the public.

“In the United States, the relationship between church and state is complicated,” Lienesch says. “We live in a deeply religious country but are governed by a Constitution that does not even mention God.”

Focusing on the First Amendment, Lienesch says he will trace ideas of religious freedom from the creation of the Constitution to today, using some of the most famous court cases to show why Americans have had so much trouble finding the role for religion in public life.

“Religious freedom is a basic right, but courts have found it difficult to define what it means, let alone what is constitutional or unconstitutional in any particular case,” he says.

Lienesch says while some people consider recent court decisions to be incoherent, he sees them as about the best that can be done in dealing with an inherently difficult issue. He says the dispute isn’t going to go away because Americans remain conflicted about the relationship between religion and politics.

“As our religious life becomes more diverse, church-state controversies can be counted on to increase,” Lienesch says. “And because we cannot rely on courts to always solve these dilemmas, we as American citizens have to take some responsibility for dealing with them. We can do that by beginning to think more seriously about what the relation between religion and politics ought to be.”

A professor of political science, Lienesch has written numerous books on religious fundamentalism and political conservatism, including his most recent book, “In the Beginning: Fundamentalism, the Scopes Trial and the Making of the Antievolution Movement,” released in 2007

Lienesch has been a fellow of the National Humanities Center and has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Lilly Endowment and the Earhart Foundation. He was the 2010 University Professor of Distinguished Teaching at UNC.

The U.S. Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787. In 2004, the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia led an initiative to make Sept. 17 a national day of observance. Constitution Day was first celebrated in 2005.

The university’s annual commemoration is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the College of Arts and Sciences and its department of political science and the School of Law. For more information, contact Dr. Dan Sabia, chairman of the department of political science, at 803-777-3109.

Constitution Day lecture

  • Who: Dr. Michael Lienesch, UNC Chapel Hill
  • What: University's observance of annual commemoration of U.S. Constitution
  • When: Thursday, Sept. 16, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Gambrell Hall auditorium

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 09/02/10 @ 4:35 PM | Updated: 09/16/10 @ 8:57 AM | Permalink