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The Religious Left and Church-State Relations

The Religious Left and Church-State Relations

Steven H. Shiffrin
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Religious Left and Church-State Relations
    Book Description:

    InThe Religious Left and Church-State Relations, noted constitutional law scholar Steven Shiffrin argues that the religious left, not the secular left, is best equipped to lead the battle against the religious right on questions of church and state in America today. Explaining that the chosen rhetoric of secular liberals is poorly equipped to argue against religious conservatives, Shiffrin shows that all progressives, religious and secular, must appeal to broader values promoting religious liberty. He demonstrates that the separation of church and state serves to protect religions from political manipulation while tight connections between church and state compromise the integrity of religious institutions.

    Shiffrin discusses the pluralistic foundations of the religion clauses in the First Amendment and asserts that the clauses cannot be confined to the protection of liberty, equality, or equal liberty. He explores the constitutional framework of religious liberalism, applying it to controversial examples, including the Pledge of Allegiance, the government's use of religious symbols, the teaching of evolution in public schools, and school vouchers. Shiffrin examines how the approaches of secular liberalism toward church-state relations have been misguided philosophically and politically, and he illustrates why theological arguments hold an important democratic position--not in courtrooms or halls of government, but in the public dialogue. The book contends that the great issue of American religious politics is not whether religions should be supported at all, but how religions can best be strengthened and preserved.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3383-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Few persons are indifferent about the role of religion in American law or politics. I have been teaching the First Amendment since 1977. Students have always been excited about issues like obscenity, libel, flag burning, racist speech, commercial advertising, and the role of money in politics. But my students become even more lively when we discuss constitutional issues like a city putting up a religious display during the Christmas season, whether a school rightly included “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, whether a state could fund religious schools, and whether the Amish had a right to take their children...


    • Chapter 1 Overview of Part I
      (pp. 11-15)

      Although clauses in the Constitution protect the free exercise of religion and prohibit the establishment of religion, debates over the meaning of these clauses are a growth industry in American legal scholarship and throughout American culture. Even the United States Supreme Court, which has been dominated by Republicans for some time, does not toe a party line. Nonetheless, in recent years a theme has broken through. Contemporary Supreme Court interpretations suggest that the religion clauses are primarily rooted in the value of equality.¹ For example, in interpreting the Free Exercise Clause, a majority of the Court has argued that in...

    • Chapter 2 The Free Exercise Clause
      (pp. 16-27)

      The Massachusetts Bay Colony tried to protect its inhabitants from blasphemers and heretics by banishing them from the colony. If those banished returned, the authorities whipped them, cut off ears, bored tongues with hot irons, and resorted to executions.¹ For minority religions, freedom of religion was the right to keep quiet, the right to be punished, or the right to leave Massachusetts.² To stay in Massachusetts was to accept and live by the terms of the Puritan deal.

      The fighting legal issue regarding free exercise today is not whether persons are free to hold opinions different from the majority or...

    • Chapter 3 Establishment Clause Values
      (pp. 28-40)

      The two main issues confronting the Establishment Clause involve government’s relationship to religious messages and government’s financial aid to religious institutions. Chapters 3 and 4 explore the purposes of the Establishment Clause and government’s relationship to religious messages. Chapters 5 and 6 in Part II explore government’s financial aid to religious institutions in the form of vouchers to religious schools. A good starting point¹ for exposing the clash of perspectives surrounding the Establishment Clause isCounty of Allegheny v. ACLU,² where a nativity scene was centrally placed in a public building during the Christmas season.³ The Supreme Court invalidated the...

    • Chapter 4 Applying the Establishment Clause
      (pp. 41-60)

      Applying the Establishment Clause is more difficult than applying the Free Exercise Clause. When government burdens religious liberty directly, all the values underlying the Free Exercise Clause are potentially in play, and they all point in the same direction. Unlike the Free Exercise Clause, however, Establishment Clause values frequently come into conflict with each other. Recall from chapter 3 that the Establishment Clause is supported by seven values: (1) it protects religious liberty and autonomy, including the protection of taxpayers from being forced to support religious ideologies to which they are opposed; (2) it stands for equal citizenship without regard...


    • Chapter 5 Compulsory Public Education
      (pp. 63-81)

      In Part I, I advanced what I consider to be the best understanding of the constitutional framework of the religion clauses, a framework that fits with religious liberalism. It is not a perfect fit with religious liberalism. As I mentioned in chapter 4, religious liberals wished we lived in a country where the American people did not feel it necessary to discriminate against Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and atheists by puttingIn God We Truston the coins and currency and under a Constitution where such discrimination would not be permitted. But we do not have a perfect Constitution. Nonetheless, it...

    • Chapter 6 Vouchers
      (pp. 82-94)

      In the last chapter I argued that the idea of compulsory public education was a noble thought experiment, but a political nonstarter. Thought experiments are not worthless, however. Recognition of the strong purposes supporting public education and the interests of children should ordinarily lead us to a presumptionagainstvouchers, at least in the high school years. Although the system of educational organization in the United States does not compel attendance at public schools, it does leverage attendance in powerful ways. Indeed, as I have suggested, nearly 90 percent of American children are educated in public schools. Simply put, the...


    • Chapter 7 Religion and Progressive Politics
      (pp. 97-109)

      Parts I and II of this book have largely focused on the constitutional aspects of church-state relations. But issues regarding church-state relations are not confined to courts. All levels of government regularly make decisions about how they should interact with religion and religious institutions. Whether government should put up a religious symbol in the town square, whether it should provide financial aid to a religious institution, and how it should deal with religion in the schools are questions asked and decided thousands of times each year in state and municipalities across the country. Some of the same questions are confronted...

    • Chapter 8 The Politics of Liberalism
      (pp. 110-133)

      We have just discussed the various types of secular liberalism and their perspectives on religious liberty and the relationship between church and state as well as the corresponding perspectives of religious liberalism. We are now prepared to discuss the politics of liberalism. In discussing the politics of liberalism, I maintain in the next section that secular liberalism is understandably on the defensive in American politics with respect to questions involving religion. In the section following that, “Public Reason,” I contend that the dominant secular liberal understanding of the role of religion in politics is misconceived and politically counterproductive. In the...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 134-136)

    In this book, I have argued for a form of religious liberalism. As a matter of constitutional law, religious liberalism maintains that the religion clauses have pluralistic foundations. Religious liberalism places great value on religious liberty and equality, but I have maintained that the most underappreciated insight of the Establishment Clause is that tight connections between church and state are bad for religion. Thus, religious liberalism insists that the use of religious symbols by government violates equality interests, does not help religion, and can harm religion in subtle and not so subtle ways. Nonetheless, from a constitutional perspective, it is...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 137-236)
  10. Index
    (pp. 237-242)