Religion has become a charged token in a politics of division. In disputes about faith-based social services, public money for religious schools, the Pledge of Allegiance, Ten Commandments monuments, the theory of evolution, and many other topics, angry contestation threatens to displace America's historic commitment to religious freedom. Part of the problem, the authors argue, is that constitutional analysis of religious freedom has been hobbled by the idea of "a wall of separation" between church and state. That metaphor has been understood to demand that religion be treated far better than other concerns in some contexts, and far worse in others. Sometimes it seems to insist on both contrary forms of treatment simultaneously. Missing has been concern for the fair and equal treatment of religion. In response, the authors offer an understanding of religious freedom called Equal Liberty.
Equal Liberty is guided by two principles. First, no one within the reach of the Constitution ought to be devalued on account of the spiritual foundation of their commitments. Second, all persons should enjoy broad rights of free speech, personal autonomy, associative freedom, and private property. Together, these principles are generous and fair to a wide range of religious beliefs and practices.
With Equal Liberty as their guide, the authors offer practical, moderate, and appealing terms for the settlement of many hot-button issues that have plunged religious freedom into controversy. Their book calls Americans back to the project of finding fair terms of cooperation for a religiously diverse people, and it offers a valuable set of tools for working toward that end.
One of the most important books on religious liberty to appear in years. Anyone interested in freedom of religion should read it, and for specialists in the area, it is a must.
In an era when the proper role of religion in the public sphere is fiercely debated, Professor Christopher Eisgruber and Dean Lawrence Sager argue that religious institutions and practitioners have a right to be free from governmental discrimination on account of religious beliefs but have no right to be exempt from generally applicable laws on account of religious beliefs...Far from being an abstract exercise, Religious Freedom and the Constitution offers satisfying answers to some of the most vexing questions on religion facing the Constitution, including religious public displays, school prayer, and the Pledge of Allegiance.
The authors proceed patiently and sensibly through considerations of creche displays, conscientious objectors, ritual animal slaughter, and peyote smoking. Their recommendations may prove more useful as a philosophical corrective than as a set of juridical guidelines, but their careful attention to the social meaning of symbols, and their nuanced concern with the sociological role and ideological sway of religion in American culture, insures the persuasive force and continuing relevance of their arguments.
Christopher Eisgruber and Lawrence Sager are serious, accomplished scholars, and they have produced a valuable, provocative book. It will, and should, help frame the debate about religious freedom under law for years to come.
- 352 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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