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First Look: Religion and politics cozy up at annual prayer breakfast

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“Now, honey, remember not to talk about religion or politics,” my wife Sandi too frequently warns me
when we go out.

But she knows telling me that has all the promise of telling a dog not to bark at a passing car. Both topics have engaged me at the deepest levels throughout my life.

I don’t bring them up to create controversy, but to recognize the importance that all who value their citizenship in this great community of ours are likely to attach to religion and politics.

Many who share that passion will gather again this year at the Chase Center on the Riverfront for the 33rd annual Delaware Leadership Foundation Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Oct. 18.

“Every year, we gather in the true spirit of Jesus Christ to discover how we can be more effective as men and women with leadership responsibilities in Delaware,” said Tim Houseal, a prominent local attorney who has been a leader of the Delaware Leadership Foundation Steering Committee for decades.

Nearly 1,000 people fill the Chase Center each year — the largest breakfast of its kind in the State. And I’ve emceed it two of the last four years, last year with former 76ers General Manager Pat Williams, a native and Tower Hill School grad who also founded and led the Orlando Magic NBA team.

American University historian and professor Daniel L. Dreisbach is this year’s speaker. He has an earned Ph.D. from Oxford, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar, and a JD degree from the University of Virginia.

His principal research interests include American constitutional law and history, First Amendment law, church-state relations, and criminal procedure. He has authored or edited 10 books and numerous articles in scholarly journals. Dreisbach is a past recipient of American University’s highest faculty award: Scholar/Teacher of the Year.

He wrote “Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State” (2002) and his most recent “Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers” (2017).

He is coeditor of “The Sacred Rights of Conscience” (2009) and “The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life” (2009).

He will explore the Founders’ expectations as men of faith (mostly) in creating a separation of church and state after their rebellion against England and King George where the state and the church were intertwined.

“The role of religion in the founding of America has long been a hotly debated question. Some historians have regarded the views of a few famous founders, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Thomas Paine, as evidence that the founders were deists who advocated the strict separation of church and state,” notes Amazon, in a discussion of Dreisbach’s work. “Popular Christian polemicists, on the other hand, have attempted to show that virtually all of the founders were pious Christians in favor of public support for religion.”

“No book was more accessible or familiar to the American founders than the Bible, and no book was more frequently alluded to or quoted from in the political discourse of the age. How and for what purposes did the founding generation use the Bible? How did the Bible influence their political culture?” asks an introduction
to Dreisbach’s work.

Ignoring the Bible’s influence on the founders, Dreisbach warns, produces a distorted image of the American political experiment, and of the concept of self-government on which America is built.

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