Religious Liberty in America
The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective
A wide-ranging analysis of the relationship between religion and politics in American public life
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 “faith-based 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.
"This concise and readable book discusses topics relating to the religion clauses of the First Amendment and, more generally, to the interaction of religion and politics in the United States. . . . Well written, engaging, and balanced in its presentations of competing views."—Catholic Historical Review
"Bruce Murray seeks to lay out historically and conceptually the issues behind the two religious liberty clauses in the First Amendment. In doing so, he introduces and traces such significant topics as the development of religious pluralism and its ironic counterpart, civil religion. Nowhere is there such a clear and concise explanation of these issues as Murray offers in this book."—Philip Goff, Indiana University–Purdue University, Indianapolis
"I heartily recommend this book for professors of history, political science, and religious studies, and to other readers trying to make sense of the confusion about the place of religion in American society and the role of the Constitution in its protection."—H-Law