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Lecturer at SEMO to discuss Jefferson's 'separation of church and state' remark
A Rhodes scholar will talk about what Thomas Jefferson meant about keeping church and state separate when he championed the idea at a special lecture this week at Southeast Missouri State University.
The Crader Family Endowment for American Values will present a lecture by Dr. Daniel Dreisbach, professor at American University in Washington, D.C., at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Rose Theatre.
The lecture, titled "Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation," is free and open to the public.
Dreisbach said in a phone interview that he has never been to Cape Girardeau but will be pleased to be on campus Tuesday.
"I love going to new places," he said. "I speak frequently, and presenting my topic to new audiences is what I'm fortunate to be doing."
Dreisbach's lecture will examine Jefferson's phrase "separation of church and state" in its literary and historical context. As Dreisbach sees it, the phrase has become misunderstood since Jefferson originated it in 1802.
"Where did the phrase 'separation of church and state' come from? Why is it used so often during past and current legal and political debate? Those are the questions I'll explore during my lecture," Dreisbach said. "More importantly, I'll want to relay more about the historical and political context in which Jefferson created those words. It will be my contention that how it has been interpreted is not particularly how Jefferson meant for it to be."
Dr. Wayne Bowen, chairman of the History Department at Southeast, said, "His topic is always timely during an election year. He will give us a better understanding of one of our Founding Fathers and also give both students and faculty a different perspective on the church-and-state argument. Dr. Dreisbach's argument will be evidence-based and a compilation of the generalities that we hear all too often."
Dreisbach is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University, and he received his doctorate from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar. He also received his law degree from the University of Virginia. He is the author of several books, including 2002's "Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation between Church and State."
Dreisbach's appearance at Rose Theatre will mark the fourth speaker the Crader family has sponsored to appear on campus.
"It's a privilege to do so," said Stan Crader, who along with other family members chose Dreisbach to appear. "Dr. Bowen, of Southeast's History Department, comes to us each year with a list of names as possible lecturers, and then we decide who we'd like to have appear. The reason we chose Dr. Dreisbach is because he's an authority on Thomas Jefferson and separation of church and state."
Crader said he expects a good turnout for the lecture.
"The series has increased in attendance over the last three of our presentations. With a topic like separation of church and state being presented, I believe that people on both sides of the issue will attend," he said.
Southeast Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau, MO