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The Last Freedom

The Last Freedom: Religion from the Public School to the Public Square

Joseph P. Viteritti
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 294
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  • Book Info
    The Last Freedom
    Book Description:

    The presidency of George W. Bush has polarized the church-state debate as never before. The Far Right has been emboldened to use religion to govern, while the Far Left has redoubled its efforts to evict religion from public life entirely. Fewer people on the Right seem to respect the church-state separation, and fewer people on the Left seem to respect religion itself--still less its free exercise in any situation that is not absolutely private. InThe Last Freedom, Joseph Viteritti argues that there is a basic tension between religion and democracy because religion often rejects compromise as a matter of principle while democracy requires compromise to thrive. In this readable, original, and provocative book, Viteritti argues that Americans must guard against debasing politics with either antireligious bigotry or religious zealotry. Drawing on politics, history, and law, he defines a new approach to the church-state question that protects the religious and the secular alike.

    Challenging much conventional opinion, Viteritti argues that the courts have failed to adequately protect religious minorities, that the rights of the religious are under greater threat than those of the secular, and that democracy exacts greater compromises and sacrifices from the religious than it does from the secular. He takes up a wide range of controversies, including the pledge of allegiance, school prayer, school vouchers, evolution, abortion, stem-cell research, gay marriage, and religious displays on public property.

    A fresh and surprising approach to the church-state question,The Last Freedomis squarely aimed at the wide center of the public that is frustrated with the extremes of both the Left and the Right.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2784-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    (pp. 1-14)

    As it happens, I started thinking about this book while writing another. The earlier project was on a similarly controversial topic, school vouchers. When I began my research in the mid-1990s, national opinion was divided over the proposition that public money might be used to pay tuition for children to attend religious schools, as already was happening in Milwaukee and Cleveland. White liberals and Democrats had lined up against the idea in near unison for a variety of reasons, one being an abiding demand for the constitutional separation of church and state. As someone who had studied urban education for...

    (pp. 15-43)

    Senator John Kerry is a Roman Catholic from Boston who attends Mass regularly. He likes to recall his days as a young altar boy, and tells audiences that he wore rosary beads around his neck as a combat officer in Vietnam. When he became the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party in 2004, he declared that his stance on political questions would not be guided by his religious beliefs. He said that while he opposes abortion personally, he supports a woman’s right to choose as a matter of public policy. This announcement disturbed leaders in the Catholic Church, who believe...

    (pp. 44-65)

    It has been called the “Trial of the Century.” John T. Scopes was a general science teacher and part-time football coach in Dayton, Tennessee, who in 1925 stood accused of violating a state law that prohibited teaching about evolution in the public schools. The courtroom drama was hyped by the presence of two star attorneys: Clarence Darrow, who had joined the defense team, was one of the most famous criminal lawyers in the country; William Jennings Bryan, who was with the prosecution, had been the Democratic Party’s candidate for president three times, and served as secretary of state under President...

    (pp. 66-86)

    In a slim volume on New York City during the eighteenth century, historian Carl Kaestle presents a picture of education that reveals sharp differences from schooling as we know it today.¹ Public schools did not exist. Education, where it was found, seemed to proceed in a haphazard manner, with most arrangements between teachers and pupils being temporary. The great majority of children were taught to read and count at home, or under the supervision of the local minister, with great attention given to the Bible. It was generally understood that instruction taken outside the home would serve to reinforce the...

    (pp. 87-113)

    By the end of the twentieth century the subject of religion had virtually disappeared from the American public school curriculum. When in the late 1970s the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Frances Fitzgerald completed her study of American history textbooks, she concluded that their authors were “silent on religious matters.”¹ Reading this literature, a student was left with the impression that religion played no role in the formation of the country or its aspirations. A decade later, when psychologist Paul Vitz conducted a survey of elementary school texts in history, social studies, and reading, he found a similar reluctance to deal...

    (pp. 114-144)

    George Reynolds was a man of faith and a good family provider. Because of his faith and his family, Reynolds was convicted of committing a federal crime in 1874. As a Mormon, Reynolds was compelled by his religion to have more than one wife; of which he had two. That put him in violation of the Morrill Act, which Congress had passed in 1862 to outlaw polygamy in the federal territories.

    A thirty-two-year-old, Reynolds, who was secretary to Mormon leader Brigham Young, oversaw a rather modest household by the standards of the Mormon Church in Utah. Elders were known to...

    (pp. 145-175)

    It seems implausible: that soon after Congress voted to enact the First Amendment, it asked President George Washington to set aside a national day of “thanksgiving and prayer”; or that the same Congress initiated the practice of starting each legislative session with a prayer, and passed legislation to hire chaplains for the House and the Senate. The same Congress also reenacted the Northwest Ordinance, declaring that “religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary for good government . . . schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

    The language for the ordinance had been taken from the Massachusetts Constitution...

    (pp. 176-207)

    With James Madison’s wise counsel, the American Founders created a system of government fashioned to meet the needs of a religiously plural society. As Madison originally saw it, this pluralism would help protect society from religious tyranny. But questions about it remain. Today as the country realizes an unprecedented level of religious diversity, Americans wonder whether the differences among them are a true source of strength or a danger to the very fabric of the society in which they live. Members of the United States Supreme Court openly disagree over the level of religiosity that can be safely accommodated in...

    (pp. 208-240)

    We began this book with a discussion about religious bias and its legitimization in the United States. This temperament, identified with an element on the political left, not only allows its purveyors to indulge their prejudice with impunity; it moves them to engage the government as a partner to enforce their perspective through a narrow interpretation of religious rights. Since the middle of the past century, those so inclined have had a certain measure of success in advancing their cause. Theirs is not the kind of bias directed at any one denominational group, so much as it is expressed towards...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 241-262)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 263-273)