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"Favoritism Cannot Be Tolerated": Challenging Protestantism in America's Public Schools and Promoting the Neutral State

From: American Quarterly
Volume 59, Number 3, September 2007
pp. 565-591 | 10.1353/aq.2007.0069

Abstract

Asking us to reconsider the origins of American multiculturalism, Kevin M. Schultz's essay argues that modern multiculturalism's history extends back before the rise of demands from the holy trinity of class, race, and gender that emerged so forcefully in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Schultz finds an early articulation of the multicultural ideal in post-World War II America being made by groups rarely associated with multiculturalism today: Catholics and Jews. As one example of the emergence of the ideal, Schultz tells the story of what happened when the Gideons of the postwar era tried to bring the Bible to all of America's public school children. Catholics and Jews came together to challenge the Gideons' action, and, in doing so, demanded at least one key facet of multicultural America: state neutrality. In the words of the court, "favoritism cannot be tolerated," even if it was granted to a group within the dominant majority. In the case, Catholics and Jews made clear their desire for a public recognition of their identities, free choice as to when those unique identities mattered, and the removal of any punishments for maintaining social and cultural differences. Today's critics who see the rise of neutral "proceduralism" as something that deprives America of a robust and unifying vision of the common good miss the fact that the demand for state neutrality and group recognition was made out of an effort to force Americans to acknowledge the fact of their pluralism. Giving us a thicker description of the origins of American multiculturalism, Schultz shows us that multiculturalism, properly understood, is actually a key part of a vision of America's common good.