The Americanization of Religious Minorities: Confronting the Constitutional Order
Willis, Susan M., Journal of Church and State
The Americanization of Religious Minorities: Confronting the Constitutional Order. By Eric Michael Mazur. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. 224 pp. $42.95.
"Thoughtful" and "insightful" are words often overworked in reviewing academic books, but in the case of Eric Mazur's The Americanization of Religious Minorities, they are apt. Coming to the subject from the perspective of having grown up Jewish in the American South (and as a fifth-grader having to go to the library while everyone else sang Christmas carols in school), Mazur pursued this research as his doctoral dissertation at the University of California-Santa Barbara. The resulting monograph is a cogent exploration of the "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment and how it has been construed in constitutional conflicts with three minority religions: the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Latter-Day Saints, and Native Americans.
Mazur notes that in the debate over the religious liberty article in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, George Mason drafted language so as to enable the "fullest toleration" of religious exercise. That language was later amended by James Madison and Patrick Henry to make all Virginians "equally entitled to the full and free exercise of religion." Toleration is something granted by others; religious freedom as an entitlement is an unalienable right. Mazur calls this notion one of the greatest gifts given to the new nation by the Commonwealth of Virginia. "But," he writes, "I also believe it is a promise that, like the messiah, is always coming but never here."
In a constitutional order conceived by Protestant and deist framers sharing a common jurisprudential heritage, and reflecting the majority culture's Protestant viewpoint, legal conflicts with religious groups considered outside the mainstream inevitably have arisen. Mazur posits three ways in which such groups have met these challenges: congruence, conversion, or unresolved conflict. He also suggests that the historical timing of these conflicts has affected government response, i.e., as federal power was consolidated in the nineteenth century, there was less threat perceived to established authority by the free exercise claims of religious minorities.
"Constitutional congruence," according to Mazur, is the compromise reached after legal confrontation in which the dominant authority accepts that the claims of the religious minority are generally in congruence with the majority. However, those minority claims are usually accepted only after being translated into terms familiar to the constitutional order. In the long series of legal battles waged by the Jehovah's …
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Publication information: Article title: The Americanization of Religious Minorities: Confronting the Constitutional Order. Contributors: Willis, Susan M. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Church and State. Volume: 45. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 2003. Page number: 392. © 1999 J.M. Dawson Studies in Church and State. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.