McGarvie on Sehat’s “The Myth of American Religious Freedom”

Mark Douglas McGarvie (University of Richmond) has posted a review of David Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom. An abstract follows. – ARH

The nature and extent of Americans’ commitment to religious freedom has become both a popular historical subject and the source of a very contentious historiography noteworthy for its considerable variation in quality. Thankfully, three publications in recent months have significantly improved the level of academic discourse on this important topic while adding to our historical understandings. Together they form an excellent basis for a synthesis of our current thinking aboutlaw and religion.

The first of these, Sarah Barringer Gordon’s The Spirit of the Law: Religious Voices and the Constitution in Modern America (2010), highlights the contrasting views of law—popular and technical—held, respectively, by spiritual activists and legal professionals and describes how, over the last seventy years, they intersected sufficiently to form the confusing accommodationist position taken by the Supreme Court since the 1980s. Published shortly thereafter, Derek H. Davis’s edited collection, The Oxford Handbook of Church and State in the United States (2010), contains twenty‐one interpretive and analytical essays establishing the current state of our historical understanding on a variety of subjects relevant to the relationship between law and religion. David Sehat’s book offers another intelligent and even‐handed analysis of this troubling historical issue, providing a new interpretation of the tension between American liberal and Christian worldviews and the institutions formed to express them.

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