The Role of Religion in the Making of Public Policy

The Role of Religion in the Making of Public Policy

The Role of Religion in the Making of Public Policy

The Role of Religion in the Making of Public Policy

Excerpt

Almost forty years ago, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a perceptive analysis of the American republic to which he gave the provocative title, The Irony of American History. Nowhere is "the irony of American history" more evident than in the role played by religion in the history of a republic conceived and founded as a secular state. On the one hand, there has been the pervasive influence of religion on the social and political life of American society, which has been widely recognized by both American and European observers throughout this nation's History -- a role played by religion that is all the more striking in view of the American tradition of the separation of church and state. On the other hand, the United States is a state in which the authority and jurisdiction of government have been excluded from religious affairs, a state in which government is neither to advance nor to inhibit religion and in which neither religion nor irreligion is to enjoy any special status. Because of this historically unique relationship between religion and the state, the United States has been described as "the oldest secular state," and, indeed, "the most thoroughgoing, if not the only truly secular state." A few years after the publication of his book on American history, Niebuhr addressed this paradox in a volume of essays published under the title of Pious and Secular America, in which he argued that America was more secular than any other nation, but also more religious.

To anyone unacquainted with American history, such affirmations might well appear to be incongruous, even in . . .

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