Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment

Overview

This volume offers a novel reading of the American constitutional experiment in religious liberty. The First Amendment, John Witte argues, is a synthesis of both the theological convictions and the political calculations of the eighteenth-century American founders. The founders incorporated six interdependent principles into the First Amendment—liberty of conscience, freedom of exercise, equality of faiths, plurality of confessions, disestablishment of religion, and separation of church and state. Both the nuance...

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Overview

This volume offers a novel reading of the American constitutional experiment in religious liberty. The First Amendment, John Witte argues, is a synthesis of both the theological convictions and the political calculations of the eighteenth-century American founders. The founders incorporated six interdependent principles into the First Amendment—liberty of conscience, freedom of exercise, equality of faiths, plurality of confessions, disestablishment of religion, and separation of church and state. Both the nuance and the balance of these six principles have often been lost on current interpreters of the First Amendment. Particularly the Supreme Court has tended to reduce the First Amendment to mechanical tests and metaphorical formulae that often replace, rather than guide, its analysis and application of these principles. First Amendment doctrine today has thus become notoriously confused, casuistic, and self-contradictory.Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment urges a return to the principled approach to religious rights, evident both in the American founding era and in the modern international human rights movement. Witte uses these principles to analyze the free exercise and establishment case law of the last two centuries. He then illustrates the virtues of his principled approach through analysis of the thorny contests over tax exemptions for religions, the role of religion in the public school, among others.This lucid and engaging volume serves both as a provocative primer for students and a pristine restatement for specialists in law, religion, history, politics, and American studies. Through a fresh reading of the sources and cases, and through the discovery and introduction of several new materials, the author reclaims the essential value, vigor, and vitality of our most cherished religious rights and liberties.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Witte (law and ethics, Emory U., Atlanta) aspires to introduce students, provoke specialists, and invite the public to view afresh the US experiment in religious rights and liberties. He combines historical, doctrinal, and comparative methods to recount the whole story from the codifying of the First Amendment in 1789 to the Supreme Court's recent interpretations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

Meet the Author

John Witte, Jr. is the Jonas Robitscher professor of law and ethics, and director of the law and religion program at Emory University, Atlanta. A specialist in legal history and religious liberty, he has published twelve books and 120 professional articles, and has lectured throughout North America, Europe, Israel, and South Africa.

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Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures
Preface
Introduction 1
1 The American Experiment in Historical Context 7
2 The Theology and Politics of the Religion Clauses 23
3 The Essential Rights and Liberties of Religion 37
4 Forging the First Amendment Religion Clauses 57
5 Religion and the States Before 1947 87
6 Religion and the Supreme Court, 1815-1947 101
7 Modern Free Exercise Law 117
8 Modern Disestablishment Law 149
9 Religious Liberty Doctrine in Miniature: Tax Exemption of Religious Property 185
10 Toward an Integration of Religious Liberty: The American Experiment in International Context 217
Concluding Reflections 231
App. 1 Drafts of Federal Religion Clauses (1787-1789) 241
App. 2 State Constitutional Provisions on Religion (as of 1947) 245
App. 3 United States Supreme Court Decisions Relating to Religious Liberty 251
Notes 283
Bibliography 341
Index 363
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