The Muslims of America

By Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad | Go to book overview
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Muslims in Prison:
Claims to Constitutional Protection
of Religious Liberty

Kathleen Moore

In The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition, Arthur A. Cohen questions the notion that a Judeo-Christian tradition even exists, suggesting that it is an invention of twentieth-century American politics spawned by efforts to promote interfaith harmony. The conception of such a tradition is, in Cohen's words, "mythological or, rather, not precisely mythological but ideological and hence, as in all ideologies, shot through with falsification, distortion, and untruth." 1

A political use of the term has gained particular currency in the 1980s as reliance on certain religious values and rhetoric in public discourse has gained acceptance, notwithstanding the ideal of separation of church and state. However, what is meant by the Judeo-Christian tradition remains ambiguous. 2 Rather than promoting interfaith harmony, the current use of the concept excludes those judged to be "deviationists" or nonbelievers, that is, persons conceived to be a threat to the bedrock values of America. 3 Public figures appeal to our sense of patriotism by talking about the United States as a Judeo‐ Christian nation, which, in effect, serves to exclude other religious groups (such as Muslims) and nonreligious groups from the mainstream of American society. 4 Observers of the American political scene have noted that the adjective "Judeo-Christian" is often used as a code word by those who actually mean to promote an exclusively Christian America. 5 In the late twentieth century, support for this tradition has become a test of true Americanism.

The most controversial use of this emotionally charged term is in legal debates. Within the American judicial tradition, the courts have struggled to construct a broad, "functional" 6 definition of religion that does not reflect any a priori judgment of the content of the beliefs in question. As a result, the courts have variously interpreted the meaning of "religion" to bring under the protection of the First Amendment 7 a variety of religious belief systems, many of which range far beyond any common understanding of a Judeo-Christian


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The Muslims of America


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