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Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas

Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State

Stephen M. Feldman
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas
    Book Description:

    Whether in the form of Christmas trees in town squares or prayer in school, fierce disputes over the separation of church and state have long bedeviled this country. Both decried and celebrated, this principle is considered by many, for right or wrong, a defining aspect of American national identity. Nearly all discussions regarding the role of religion in American life build on two dominant assumptions: first, the separation of church and state is a constitutional principle that promotes democracy and equally protects the religious freedom of all Americans, especially religious outgroups; and second, this principle emerges as a uniquely American contribution to political theory. In Please Don't Wish Me a Merry Christmas, Stephen M. Feldman challenges both these assumptions. He argues that the separation of church and state primarily manifests and reinforces Christian domination in American society. Furthermore, Feldman reveals that the separation of church and state did not first arise in the United States. Rather, it has slowly evolved as a political and religious development through western history, beginning with the initial appearance of Christianity as it contentiously separated from Judaism.In tracing the historical roots of the separation of church and state within the Western world, Feldman begins with the Roman Empire and names Augustine as the first political theorist to suggest the idea. Feldman next examines how the roles of church and state variously merged and divided throughout history, during the Crusades, the Italian Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the British Civil War and Restoration, the early North American colonies, nineteenth-century America, and up to the present day. In challenging the dominant story of the separation of church and state, Feldman interprets the development of Christian social power vis--vis the state and religious minorities, particularly the prototypical religious outgroup, Jews.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2804-8
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Chapter I Introduction: Different Stories
    (pp. 1-9)

    I am Jewish.

    In the fall of 1993, my four-year-old daughter began a prekindergarten program in an experimental public school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That October, when my wife and I learned that the school, called the Mayo Demonstration School, had displayed and decorated a Christmas tree during the previous year, we sent the following letter to the principal:

    As parents of a Mayo student, we request that the Mayo School refrain from celebrating any religious holidays. We realize that many public schools routinely celebrate religious holidays, particularly the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. Nonetheless, we hope that Mayo, because...

  5. Chapter 2 Origins of Power: The Emergence of Christianity and Antisemitism
    (pp. 10-27)

    In 63 B.C.E., Rome conquered the Jewish homeland of Israel, and from that time through the first century C.E. and beyond, Israel remained an occupied Roman province.¹ Nevertheless, the Jewish people continued to live according to their professed covenant with God that was articulated in the Jewish laws of the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible).² Many Jewish sects or groups coexisted at that time, with Jesus and his followers (or disciples) constituting merely one of those sundry groups;³ Jesus himself never imagined that he was leading or creating a religion separate from Judaism.⁴ His followers, especially...

  6. Chapter 3 The Christian Middle Ages
    (pp. 28-49)

    Pope Gelasius I, pontiff from 492 to 496, drew upon Augustine to articulate a theory of church-empire (or, more loosely, church-state) relations that was ambiguous enough to be used both by popes and by emperors for at least six centuries.¹ In particular, Gelasius wrote the following letter to the emperor:

    There are indeed, most august Emperor, two powers by which this world is chiefly ruled: the sacred authority of the Popes and the royal power. Of these the priestly power is much more important, because it has to render account for the kings of men themselves at the Divine tribunal....

  7. Chapter 4 The Christian Renaissance and Reformation in Continental Europe
    (pp. 50-78)

    Toward the end of the Middle Ages, certain Italian cities such as Venice and Florence, spurred by fortuitous economic prosperity, strove for independence from the Holy Roman Empire.¹ Already, in the mid-fourteenth century, Bartolus argued that the free people of the cities (or city republics) were exercising de facto merum Imperium (the highest power to make laws), so they effectively constituted sibi princeps (a prince unto themselves). During this era, though, the cities had to remain wary of papal domination, and thus many writers, such as Dante, still sided with the emperor to avoid the pope. Other writers nonetheless insisted...

  8. Chapter 5 The English Reformation, Civil War, and Revolution
    (pp. 79-118)

    During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, England underwent a remarkable transformation as it passed through the Henrician Reformation, the Elizabethan Settlement, the Civil War, the Restoration of the monarchy, and finally the Glorious Revolution.¹ The causes of some of these events remain notoriously ambiguous. Different historians, for example, have attributed the Civil War of the 1640s either to religious, political, economic, or even geographical factors.² Those who emphasize religion tend to refer to this period as the Puritan Revolution,³ while others insist that there was no revolution at all, Puritan or otherwise. Recent scholarship tends to emphasize a multitude of...

  9. Chapter 6 The North American Colonies
    (pp. 119-144)

    For the most part, the North American colonies began as religiously and culturally Protestant, and after a brief period of slippage, they then became even more so.¹ The first European nation to gain a significant foothold in the Americas was Spain, which was Roman Catholic, but Spain predominantly influenced South and Central America. In North America, the chief long-term consequence of Spanish exploration was to spur greater efforts by the English and the French. France, also primarily Roman Catholic, initially gained a footing in North America but ultimately had little lasting effect in the colonies that eventually became the United...

  10. Chapter 7 The American Revolution and Constitution
    (pp. 145-174)

    The American Revolution was, in the words of Gordon Wood, “the product of a complicated culmination of many diverse personal grievances and social strains, ranging from land pressures in Connecticut to increasing indebtedness in Virginia.”¹ The disparate interests and occasionally antagonistic colonies fused together, though, to balk at the “remotely rooted and awkwardly imposed [British] imperial system.”² This colonial resistance to British authority was evident in the realm of church and state. During the last few decades of the colonial period, few major controversies regarding church establishments arose. To a great extent, most Americans agreed that the colonies were Protestant...

  11. Chapter 8 The Fruits of the Framing: Church and State in Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century America
    (pp. 175-217)

    If the American Revolution took a “monarchical, hierarchy-ridden” society and propelled it toward democracy, then the Constitution at least partially altered the national route.¹ The framers, while not repudiating democracy, sought to protect against its supposed excesses. Hence, as already discussed, the Constitution shifted power from the states to the federal government but simultaneously introduced various mechanisms intended to encumber the national government. Even with the Constitution in place, however, several factors combined to keep the United States moving in its generally democratic direction, albeit along an adjusted pathway. Regardless of the new constitutional scheme and regardless of the economic...

  12. Chapter 9 The Fruits of the Framing: Church and State in Late-Twentieth-Century America
    (pp. 218-254)

    The dominant story of the first amendment religion clauses suggests that the separation of church and state is a constitutional principle that equally protects the religious freedom of all, including religious outgroups. Most evidently, this dominant story did not fit the social reality of America through at least the end of World War II. At that time, America remained a de facto Christian nation, albeit with a small Jewish population and some other religious outgroups. American Jews often experienced Christian domination through the prism of antisemitism, sometimes expressed through governmental and sometimes through non-governmental actors. Thus, from an American Jewish...

  13. Chapter 10 A Synchronic Analysis of the Separation of Church and State in the Late Twentieth Century: Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 255-286)

    The dominant story of the separation of church and state consists of two claims. First, the separation of church and state stands as a constitutional principle that promotes democracy and equally protects the religious liberty of all, especially religious out groups, including Jews. Second, this principle emerges as a unique American contribution to political theory. My critical social narrative has demonstrated the bankruptcy of the second claim. The separation of church and state did not magically spring into being in America, during either the colonial or the constitutional framing period, even if the Enlightenment background of American thought is accounted...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 287-375)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 376-388)
  16. Index
    (pp. 389-396)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 397-397)