The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness

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The Godless Constitution is an urgent and timely reexamination of the roots of church-state separation in American politics - and a ringing refutation of the misguided claims of the religious right. In this important polemic two distinguished scholars of American political ideas and religion refute this dangerous attempt to introduce what they term "religious correctness" into our politics, by reminding us that the absence of any mention of God in the Constitution was a conscious action on the framers' part, ...
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Overview

The Godless Constitution is an urgent and timely reexamination of the roots of church-state separation in American politics - and a ringing refutation of the misguided claims of the religious right. In this important polemic two distinguished scholars of American political ideas and religion refute this dangerous attempt to introduce what they term "religious correctness" into our politics, by reminding us that the absence of any mention of God in the Constitution was a conscious action on the framers' part, intended to prevent the bloody religious controversies that so marked European history. They also emphasize that church-state separation was seen as a guarantee of - not a hindrance to - religions liberty. Fully respecting the importance of religion in the public sphere, yet forthright in defining proper limits, The Godless Constitution offers a bracing return to the first principles of American democracy - and a guide to keeping them intact in the forthcoming presidential campaign.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
While neither a full nor a particularly sophisticated treatment of the issue of church/state separation, this is a compelling rebuttal to those who claim that America is a Christian nation. The authors don't address the many recent judicial controversies about public expression of religion. Instead, they explore the Constitution's origins and its ``intentionally secular base.'' They point out that even the religious men among those who ratified the Constitution wanted to distance religion from government. Also, they discuss the views of Roger Williams, who wanted to keep the church pure and thus separate; of John Locke, whose liberalism limited the role of the state; and of Thomas Jefferson, who incorporated Locke's ideas in America. Indeed, the authors note that the godless Constitutional structure was undermined only later, when God entered U.S. currency, in 1863, and in such institutions as the Pledge of Allegiance. The authors believe that while the Constitution does not exclude religion from the public square, it offers no special privileges; thus, they say, religious faith should not be a litmus test for political leaders. Kramnick teaches government at Cornell University; Moore teaches history there. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Scholars Kramnick (government, Cornell) and Moore (history, Cornell) have abandoned the "scholarly apparatus" of footnotes and bibliography in favor of an impassioned polemic on separation of church and state aimed at a popular audience. They present the case that strict separation of church and state, while a source of debate from the nation's founding onward, was indeed the intent of the founders. The vision of a limited, secular state populated by a religious and moral citizenry was at the heart of the new American republic. Using well-selected historical examples, they distinguish "between a religiously informed politics and the politics of religious correctness." The debate about the proper balance between church and state continues today, perhaps approaching its highest pitch since the Constitutional period. The authors ably present a timely and important topic in this election year in all its historical context and complexity. For most large collections.-Linda V. Carlisle, Southern Illinois Univ., Edwardsville
Ray Olson
The word "God" does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. Kramnick and Moore remind us why it does not and also how efforts to insert it have been staved off. They take us back to radical Christian Roger Williams' influential insistence upon a religiously neutral polity for Rhode Island and to the British roots of the American secular state in the thought of John Locke, the activism of the chemist Joseph Priestley, and the pamphleteering of the now-forgotten James Burgh. They show how the first four presidents resisted officially Christianizing the country and how nineteenth-century Baptist ministers led efforts to keep church and state separate. Their history lessons are enthralling and ought to give even the most ardent supporter of public school prayer pause. But when they turn to arguing against today's religious right, they have to concede that actual Christian political spokespersons aren't jackbooted theocrats and to set up a straw man called "religious correctness" to take the hits they want to score. So grade their effort A in history, C-in forensics.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393039610
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/1996
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.53 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Is America a Christian Nation? 11
Ch. 2 The Godless Constitution 26
Ch. 3 Roger Williams and the Religious Argument for Church-State Separation 46
Ch. 4 The English Roots of the Secular State 67
Ch. 5 The "Infidel" Mr. Jefferson 88
Ch. 6 American Baptists and the Jeffersonian Tradition 110
Ch. 7 Sunday Mail and the Christian Amendment 131
Ch. 8 Religious Politics and America's Moral Dilemmas 150
A Note on Sources 179
Index 183
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