Religious Liberty in America

Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective

Bruce T. Murray
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Religious Liberty in America
    Book Description:

    In recent years a series of highly publicized controversies has focused attention on what are arguably the sixteen most important words in the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The ongoing court battles over the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the now annual cultural quarrel over “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays,” and the political promotion of “faithbased initiatives” to address social problems—all reflect competing views of the meaning of the religious liberty clauses of the First Amendment. Such disputes, as Bruce T. Murray shows, are nothing new. For more than two hundred years Americans have disagreed about the proper role of religion in public life and where to draw the line between church and state. In this book, he reexamines these debates and distills the volumes of commentary and case law they have generated. He analyzes not only the changing contours of religious freedom but also the phenomenon of American civil religion, grounded in the notion that the nation's purpose is sanctified by a higher authority—an idea that can be traced back to the earliest New England colonists and remains deeply ingrained in the American psyche. Throughout the book, Murray connects past and present, tracing the historical roots of contemporary controversies. He considers why it is that a country founded on the separation of church and state remains singularly religious among nations, and concludes by showing how the Supreme Court's thinking about the religious liberty clauses has evolved since the late eighteenth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-140-3
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. 1 From Revival to Religious Liberty
    (pp. 1-23)

    The media woke up the day after the 2004 election to a collective sigh: “How did we miss the story?” The importance American voters place on religion and moral values had largely escaped the consciousness of political reporters.

    “The inescapable verdict is that many of us missed clue after clue to the true arc of Campaign 2004,” wrote John McCormick, deputy editor of theChicago Tribune. “Yes,Fahrenheit 9/11put a lot of fannies in theater seats—but it grossed less than one-third as much asThe Passion of the Christ. For many of us in journalism, evangelical America is...

  5. 2 Understanding People of Faith
    (pp. 24-40)

    Typecasting people of faith is as easy from the living room armchair as it is from the newsroom or the classroom, especially when religious people in the news are shown saying or doing unreasonable things in the name of their religion.

    The image of religious people in America is often shaped by their responses to the most polarizing issues like abortion, homosexuality, and evolution. The most extreme views get the most press. Not surprisingly, opinions of religious people are often polarized.

    “Let’s not beat around the bush: Our first response to people who are religious in ways other than we...

  6. 3 With “God on Our Side”?: American Civil Religion
    (pp. 41-76)

    A convergence of current events has shed light on an elusive but pervasive phenomenon in America known as civil religion—a belief system that binds the nation’s deepest-held values with transcendent meaning.

    The public outpouring following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; the searing debate over immigration; the response to lawsuits challenging the Pledge of Allegiance, with the phrase “under God”; and an American president who liberally invokes his faith in the context of national mission—all of these elements have come together to create a kind of “perfect storm” that has stirred civil religion to the surface.

    “The Sept....

  7. 4 Finding the Common Threads of Religious Liberty
    (pp. 77-93)

    During the 2004 presidential election campaign, a common refrain was heard across the media: America is polarized—more than anyone can remember. Controversy over critical moral and religious issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and the Pledge of Allegiance has pitted Americans against each other to an unprecedented degree, or so it might seem. Based on the tenor of talk shows, Web logs, and political strategists, it would appear America’s national discussion is moving into dangerous uncharted territory.

    But these debates are nothing new. Four centuries ago, the early Americans were arguing over the same basic issues: What is the...

  8. 5 Religious Liberty in Public Schools
    (pp. 94-111)

    Nowhere is the battle for freedom of religion—and freedomfromreligion—more heated than in public schools, where the hearts and minds of children are involved. The issue of religion in public schools has left a long trail of court cases, and it continues to be a prime source of conflict, litigation, and precedent-setting Supreme Court decisions. Since 1987, the High Court has upheld school vouchers,¹ campus Christian clubs, and after-hours Bible study on school property;² but the Court has struck down prayers before football games,³ prayers at graduation ceremonies,⁴ and the teaching of creationism.⁵ These matters are far...

  9. 6 Transforming Lives and Transforming Government: Faith-Based Initiatives
    (pp. 112-138)

    President George W. Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative marks a significant new course in national policy toward social welfare that is rivaled in recent history only by Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” program and the “War on Poverty” in the 1960s. The initiative also marks a major shift in the federal government’s relationship with religious organizations, raising questions regarding the separation of church and state and the meaning of the First Amendment.

    The scope of the initiative is expansive: In 2004, the White House reported that seven agencies awarded $2 billion in competitive grants to faith-based organizations, representing more than...

  10. 7 Beyond the “Wall of Separation”: The Supreme Court and the First Amendment
    (pp. 139-170)

    Like most of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, those granted in the Religious Liberty Clauses of the First Amendment are not clear-cut or absolute, nor are the interpretations of these sixteen monumental words set in stone or unchanging. School vouchers for parochial schools, religious displays on public property, and prayers before Congress and even the Supreme Court are examples of where total separation of church and state breaks down.

    Accommodating certain aspects of religion in public life, while barring others, has been the tortuous task of the Supreme Court. The lines of separation and accommodation have changed...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 171-198)
  12. Index
    (pp. 199-213)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 214-214)