The Myth of American Religious Freedom

The Myth of American Religious Freedom

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In the battles over religion and politics in America, both liberals and conservatives often appeal to history to support their position. Liberals claim that the Founders separated church and state. But for much of American history, David Sehat writes, Protestant Christianity had an intimate connection with the state. Yet the past was not the Christian utopia that conservatives imagine either. Instead, a Protestant moral establishment prevailed, using government power to punish free thinkers and religious dissidents. In The Myth of American Religious Freedom, Sehat provides an eye-opening history of religion in public life, overturning our most cherished myths. Originally, the First Amendment applied only to the Federal government, which had limited authority. On the state level, the Protestant moral establishment ruled, using moral laws to uphold religious power that grew with time. After 1820, Sehat shows, new state constitutions increasingly invoked the deity, and even existing constitutions were rewritten with religious language. This moral and religious orthodoxy, Sehat argues, was enforced against Catholics, Jews, Mormons, agnostics, and others. Not until 1940 did the U.S. Supreme Court extend the First Amendment to the states. To trace the rise and fall of this Protestant establishment, Sehat focuses on a series of dissenters-abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, socialist Eugene V. Debs, and many others. Shattering myths held by both the left and right, David Sehat forces us to rethink some of our most deeply-held beliefs. By showing the bad history used on both sides, he denies partisans a safe refuge with the more

Product details

  • Hardback | 368 pages
  • 160.02 x 233.68 x 35.56mm | 635.03g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195388763
  • 9780195388763
  • 1,322,280

Review quote

Though [Sehat] is keen to disavow any polemical agenda, his aim is clearly to sharpen the liberal narrative, to root it in greater historical awarenewss. He succeeds, which makes this an important book. Theo Hobson, Times Literary Supplement [a] fine [example] of the riches that can result when talented historians reclaim the freedom to think boldly and synthetically about the American religious experiment. Peter J. Thuesen, Journal of Ecclesiastical Historyshow more

About David Sehat

David Sehat is Assistant Professor of History at Georgia State more

Table of contents

INTRODUCTION: THE AMERICAN MYTHS OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY ; PART I: MORAL LAW ; 1. Contested Liberties and Religious Establishment ; 2. The Irrelevant First Amendment ; 3. The Moral Establishment ; PART II: SONS OF HAM ; 4. The Moral Purpose of Slavery ; 5. The Moral Purpose of Abolition ; 6. Morality and Segregation ; PART III: FAMILY VALUES ; 7. Moral Reproduction and the Family ; 8. Woman's rights, Woman's Individuality, and the Bible ; PART IV: GOD'S COUNTRY ; 9. The Separation of Church and State? ; 10. Religion, Morals, and Common Sense ; PART V: SOWING AND REAPING ; 11. The Ethics of Jesus and the Gospel of Wealth ; 12. Liberal and Conservative Moral Visions ; PART VI: A MORAL MAJORITY? ; 13. The Decline of the Moral Establishment ; 14. The Religious Right and the Challenge of Moral Pluralismshow more

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