The Myth of American Religious Freedom

David Sehat, Oxford Univ., $29.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-19-538876-3
In this new and compelling examination of American religious history, Sehat argues that this country did not extend freedom of religion to all, but until recently was controlled by a Protestant Christian establishment that sought to impose its will in coercive and often exclusionary ways. An assistant professor of history at Georgia State University, Sehat shows how state and federal courts sided with the Protestant moral establishment in battles with Roman Catholics over public schools, with Mormons over polygamy, and with freethinkers over the right to be irreligious. This argument might surprise 21st-century Americans convinced their country has always been a beacon of religious liberty, but it is precisely this flaw in the national religious image that Sehat attempts to illuminate, if not always concisely. His argument is timely in light of the controversy over a proposed Islamic center near ground zero in New York City. It is also an important corrective to the ongoing culture wars between the religious right, which claims this country was birthed on a Christian foundation, and secularists, who insist that the First Amendment spells out a separation of church and state. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/08/2010
Release date: 01/01/2011
Genre: Religion
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