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Establishing a General Theory of the Establishment Clause
Unformatted Document Text:  Establishing a General Theory of the Establishment Clause Dennis J. Goldford Department of Politics and International Relations Drake University ## email not listed ## The meaning of the religion clauses of the First Amendment 1 is politically contro- versial not just because of contemporary “culture war” politics in the United States, but because, more broadly, religion itself is constitutionally problematic in a liberal democ- racy. We can understand contemporary “culture war” politics in the United States in terms of an historical parallel as a conflict between a peculiarly American Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Whereas the political and cultural thrust of the 1960s was a general liberalization that emphasized individual autonomy over against traditional authorities and orthodoxies (thus, an American Reformation), then the conservative po- litical reaction that arose in the 1970s and continues into the early 21 st century has been an attempt to reassert those traditional authorities and orthodoxies (thus, an American Counter-Reformation). At the forefront of that reaction has been the movement of relig- ious conservatives, comprised predominantly of evangelical Protestants but also includ- ing much smaller groups of conservative Catholics and orthodox Jews, whose aim over the past forty years of what they consider a culture war has been to reclaim both the authority of and a public role for religion in American life. 2 1 "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ." U.S. Constitution, Amendment I. 2 See, most recently, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, And the Splen- dor of Truth (New York: Basic Books, 2006). For a critical review, see Damon Linker, “Without a

Authors: Goldford, Dennis.
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Establishing a General Theory of the Establishment Clause
Dennis J. Goldford
Department of Politics and International Relations
Drake University
## email not listed ##
The meaning of the religion clauses of the First Amendment
1
is politically contro-
versial not just because of contemporary “culture war” politics in the United States, but
because, more broadly, religion itself is constitutionally problematic in a liberal democ-
racy. We can understand contemporary “culture war” politics in the United States in
terms of an historical parallel as a conflict between a peculiarly American Reformation
and Counter-Reformation. Whereas the political and cultural thrust of the 1960s was a
general liberalization that emphasized individual autonomy over against traditional
authorities and orthodoxies (thus, an American Reformation), then the conservative po-
litical reaction that arose in the 1970s and continues into the early 21
st
century has been
an attempt to reassert those traditional authorities and orthodoxies (thus, an American
Counter-Reformation). At the forefront of that reaction has been the movement of relig-
ious conservatives, comprised predominantly of evangelical Protestants but also includ-
ing much smaller groups of conservative Catholics and orthodox Jews, whose aim over
the past forty years of what they consider a culture war has been to reclaim both the
authority of and a public role for religion in American life.
2
1
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof . . . ." U.S. Constitution, Amendment I.
2
See, most recently, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, And the Splen-
dor of Truth (New York: Basic Books, 2006). For a critical review, see Damon Linker, “Without a


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