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Religious Liberty in America

The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective

Bruce T. Murray

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv


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p. v

Table of Contents

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xvi

"Sandwiched between the sprawling city limits of Los Angeles and the city of Pasadena—famous for its annual Tournament of Roses Parade—is the city of South Pasadena, a quiet little burg that has somehow managed to fend off freeways, high rise buildings, and the other encroachments of metropolitan life. Along a quarter-mile stretch of Fremont Avenue, which runs ..."

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Chapter 1: From Revival to Religious Liberty

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pp. 1-23

"The separating of church from state certainly has not meant—despite some shrill cries that it should—the separating of religion from politics. Far from it. Churches and church goers have been active in American politics and social policy on explicit religious grounds from the American Revolution through the abolition movement and the Civil War and the ..."

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Chapter 2: Understanding People of Faith

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pp. 24-40

"Typecasting people of faith is as easy from the living room armchair as it is from the newsroom or the classroom, especially when religious people in the news are shown saying or doing unreasonable things in the name of their religion. The image of religious people in America is often shaped by their responses to the most polarizing issues like abortion, homosexuality, and ..."

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Chapter 3: With “God on Our Side”?: American Civil Religion

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pp. 41-76

"The same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God."

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Chapter 4: Finding the Common Threads of Religious Liberty

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pp. 77-93

"It is by a mutual consent, through a special overvaluing providence and a more than ordinary approbation of the churches of Christ, to seek out a place of cohabitation and consortship under a due form of government both civil and ecclesiastical."

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Chapter 5: Religious Liberty in Public Schools

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pp. 94-111

"The public school is at once the symbol of our democracy and the most pervasive means for promoting our common destiny. In no activity of the State is it more vital to keep out divisive forces than in its schools, to avoid confusing, not to say fusing, what the Constitution sought to keep strictly..."

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Chapter 6: Transforming Lives and Transforming Government: Faith-Based Initiatives

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pp. 112-138

"Our faith- based institutions display [the] spirit of prayer and service in their work every day. People of faith have no corner on compassion. But people of faith need compassion if they are to be true to their most cherished beliefs. For prayer means more than presenting God with our plans and desires; prayer also means opening ourselves to God’s priorities, ..."

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Chapter 7: Beyond the “Wall of Separation”: The Supreme Court and the First Amendment

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pp. 139-170

"The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to..."


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pp. 171-198


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pp. 199-213

Back Cover

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pp. 214-214

E-ISBN-13: 9781613761403
E-ISBN-10: 1613761406
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558496378
Print-ISBN-10: 1558496378

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 680432783
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Religious Liberty in America

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Subject Headings

  • Church and state -- United States.
  • Freedom of religion -- United States.
  • Civil religion -- United States.
  • Freedom of religion -- United States -- History.
  • Church and state -- United States -- History
  • Civil religion -- United States -- History.
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