Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment: Essential Rights and Liberties

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Westview Press, 2000 - Law - 379 pages
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This volume offers a novel reading of the American constitutional experiment in religious liberty. The First Amendment, John Witte argues, is a synthesis of both the theological convictions and the political calculations of the eighteenth-century American founders. The founders incorporated six interdependent principles into the First Amendment—liberty of conscience, freedom of exercise, equality of faiths, plurality of confessions, disestablishment of religion, and separation of church and state. Both the nuance and the balance of these six principles have often been lost on current interpreters of the First Amendment. Particularly the Supreme Court has tended to reduce the First Amendment to mechanical tests and metaphorical formulae that often replace, rather than guide, its analysis and application of these principles. First Amendment doctrine today has thus become notoriously confused, casuistic, and self-contradictory.Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment urges a return to the principled approach to religious rights, evident both in the American founding era and in the modern international human rights movement. Witte uses these principles to analyze the free exercise and establishment case law of the last two centuries. He then illustrates the virtues of his principled approach through analysis of the thorny contests over tax exemptions for religions, the role of religion in the public school, among others.This lucid and engaging volume serves both as a provocative primer for students and a pristine restatement for specialists in law, religion, history, politics, and American studies. Through a fresh reading of the sources and cases, and through the discovery and introduction of several new materials, the author reclaims the essential value, vigor, and vitality of our most cherished religious rights and liberties.

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About the author (2000)

John Witte, Jr. is the Jonas Robitscher professor of law and ethics, and director of the law and religion program at Emory University, Atlanta. A specialist in legal history and religious liberty, he has published twelve books and 120 professional articles, and has lectured throughout North America, Europe, Israel, and South Africa.

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