Positive Neutrality: Letting Religious Freedom Ring

Positive Neutrality: Letting Religious Freedom Ring

Positive Neutrality: Letting Religious Freedom Ring

Positive Neutrality: Letting Religious Freedom Ring

Synopsis

Church-state relations are becoming more and more critical. Current controversies over public policies, changing societal attitudes, and the changing character of the Supreme Court have led to a rethinking of Court decisions and public policy. Monsma offers a new approach integrating historical, theoretical, social and legal perspectives and a principle of "positive neutrality" in the handling of church-state relations. This basic study is written in a lively manner and covers major questions and current issues for broad inter-disciplinary audiences.

Excerpt

On a January day some years ago the author of this book stood in a World War II military cemetery for 4,000 slain Americans just outside Florence, Italy. Although this neat, restful, and silence- inducing site is maintained by the U.S. government, these graves are not individually marked by a uniform secular symbol. On the contrary, since most of the U.S. soldiers who died in World War II (like their civilian compatriots) belonged either to the Christian or the Jewish faith, the grave of virtually every soldier is marked by a cross or by a Star of David. in this peaceful cemetery, the public expression of religious differences, for each according to his own communal belonging, seems totally appropriate. in death as in life, the U.S. government does not try to obliterate the religious differences important to its citizens. Without violating its chaste neutrality as between Christians, Jews, and others, it does not use that neutrality to insist either on public denial of religion or on public uniformity. This is neutrality; but it is "positive neutrality." It does not prohibit the expression of religion in the public sphere, and by no means establishes unbelief as the only permissible public expression.

Contrast this situation of only fifty years ago with the contortions the Supreme Court has been going through since, in its efforts to ban or to regulate the public display of communal religious symbols (a creche, a menorah). the Court's recent understanding of religion as a private matter for individuals has plainly become malnourished and impoverished. This poverty, Stephen Monsma has decided, needs attention, too.

This remarkable book opens up a new way to understand the relationship between church and state in the United States. It brings together many different strands of scholarship that have hardly been accessible in any one book before. It is marked by a generous and ecumenical spirit. Its theses are set forth in clear relief by prose of workmanlike clarity. To teach from this book will probably also be a . . .

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