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RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN AMERICA: MYTHS AND REALITIES

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 June 2014

FRANCIS G. COUVARES*
Affiliation:
E. Dwight Salmon Professor of History and American Studies, Amherst College E-mail: fgcouvares@amherst.edu

Extract

The Whiggish story of ever-evolving liberty issuing from the Revolutionary decades and progressing straightforwardly over the next two centuries is dead. But so too, it seems, on the evidence of these two good books, is the revisionist tale of either “republican virtue” (often trumpeted by progressives) or “evangelical piety” (often trumpeted by Christian conservatives) governing the American mind and its understanding of rights, obligations, and collective identity. Both Steven K. Green and David Sehat see the narrative arc of American history as a continual tension between the religious and secular understandings of the American Constitution. Sehat is more doubtful that the Jeffersonian–Madisonian doctrine of separation of church and state ever commanded broad assent. The “myth” that America was born religiously free, though peddled by liberals, he argues, actually disables secularists who are struggling to create a public realm truly free from religious coercion. Green more readily accepts the proposition that the germ of religious freedom grew from its eighteenth-century origins along a non-continuous but nonetheless clearly secularizing trajectory.

Type
Review Essays
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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References

1 The critique of secularization theory can best be sampled in Berger, Peter L., The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City, NY, 1967)Google Scholar; and in the essays in his edited collection The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics (Washington, DC, 2000). A stout defense of the theory can be found in Bruce, Steve, God Is Dead: Secularization in the West (New York, 2002)Google Scholar. See also Hollinger, David A., Science, Jews, and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-Twentieth-Century Intellectual History (Princeton, 1996)Google Scholar.

2 Hamburger, Philip, The Separation of Church and State (Cambridge, MA, 2004)Google Scholar. Wills, Garry disputes Hamburger's reading of Jefferson, Madison, and almost every other founder's views of separation in Head and Heart: American Christianities (New York, 2007), especially chaps. 1113Google Scholar.

3 Foster, Gaines M., Moral Reconstruction: Christian Lobbyists and the Federal Regulation of Morality, 1865–1920 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2002)Google Scholar.

4 Jacoby, Susan, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (New York, 2004)Google Scholar.

5 On antebellum struggles for free speech see Curtis, Michael Kent, Free Speech, “The People's Darling Privilege”: Struggles for Freedom of Expression in American History (Durham, NC and London, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Kevin Schultz, “Favoritism Cannot Be Tolerated: Challenging De Facto Protestantism in America's Public Schools and Advocating a Neutral State,” American Quarterly, Sept. 2007, 565–91.

7 Fenton, Elizabeth A., Religious Liberties: Anti-Catholicism and Liberal Democracy in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature and Culture (New York, 2011), 45, 144CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Pegram, Thomas R., Battling Demon Rum: The Struggle for a Dry America, 1800–1933 (Chicago, 1998), 115Google Scholar.

9 Flake, Kathleen, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (Chapel Hill, NC, 2004)Google Scholar.

10 McGreevy, John T., Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York, 2003)Google Scholar.

11 Hollinger, Science, Jews, and Secular Culture.

12 Kloppenberg, James T., Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870–1920 (New York, 1986)Google Scholar.

13 This is the story that Rabban, David M. tells so well in Free Speech in Its Forgotten Years (New York, 1997)Google Scholar.

14 On these “sex radicals” see Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz, Rereading Sex: Battles over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth-Century America (New York, 2002)Google Scholar.

15 Fish, Stanley, There's No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It's a Good Thing, Too (New York, 1994)Google Scholar; MacKinnon, Catharine A., Only Words (Cambridge, MA, 1993)Google Scholar.

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