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The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom Hardcover – February 18, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (February 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674724755
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674724754
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #625,740 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Smith argues that the goal of American religious liberty has been ill served by the Supreme Court doctrines of the past half century. No mere diatribe, but a careful critique by a tremendously erudite and subtle scholar, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom is one of the most important books on religious liberty in years. (Andrew Koppelman, Northwestern University)

About the Author

Steven D. Smith is Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of San Diego and Co-Executive Director of the USD Institute for Law and Religion.

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By George P. Wood VINE VOICE on February 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In America, religious freedom is often named “the first freedom.” One reason reason for this name is religious freedom’s pride of place in the First Amendment. Only after stating, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” does that amendment go on to prohibit congressional laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The order of the First Amendment points to a second, more important reason for the name, however: the primacy of conscience that religious freedom protects.

One would think that religious freedom would unite Americans of all persuasions, religious and political. Unfortunately, however, religious freedom itself has become a controversial topic within our increasingly secular and egalitarian political culture. Flashpoints are numerous, but certain clashes are especially prominent at the present moment: the rights of religious groups at public schools, the constitutionality of the so-called ministerial exception, the burden ObamaCare’s sterilization-contraception-abortifacient mandate places on religious business owners; and the increasingly tense battle between gay rights groups and religious believers on the topic of same-sex marriage.

Underlying these conflicts are two very different narratives regarding the meaning of American religious freedom, whose differences Steven D. Smith outlines in The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The author here brings to fruition decades of searching critical reflection on the liberal "rationalist" quandary regarding the moral and metaphysical basis of law. Deftly deflating the reigning enlightened mythology, Smith reveals the Christian (and notably pre-Reformation) roots of the idea, or rather the spirit of religious liberty. In doing so, he makes clear the impossibility of any purely neutral solution to the problem of religion and politics, of any "public reason" that could relieve us of the responsibility of ethical and indeed religious judgment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Peter P. Fuchs on April 1, 2015
Format: Hardcover
This book is an exercise in pure anachronism, which is ironic because the author seems to want to argue against anachronism itself. He wants to let us in on what really went on, and get us away from misaligning current frameworks with "standard" misreadings of the past. The sad part is that he seems truly uniformed about the actual cultural history of the Enlightenment in relationship to continuing Christian orthodoxy. It is poignantly sad, but telling that he knows no better than to use Gibbon from the very start as a central example of Enlightenment approaches to that past period. Gibbon is certainly the most elegant, witty and entertaining of such approaches. But Gibbon was very different from MOST in the cultural climate of the day on these matters. Since Smith is trying to get his readers to look to the underlying or background assumptions of the culture that produced the American system of governance, it would have probably behooved him to consider the Enlightenment that way as well. He has not done that. He has chosen a Technicolor version intellectually, which should be nothing but entertaining. And he does get points for a certain entertaining style in writing-- he is good at telling a story. But the story is simply wrong in terms of broad cultural history.

The easiest way to see why he is wrong is just by studying more middling level intellectuals of the period who supported Enlightenment ideas of the period. If you do that you will find something very interesting. Many of them were ministers, or thinkers close to orthodox Christian commitments, and their writings are (now) rather unconvincing and unimpressive attempts to jerry-rig a combination between Enlightenment scientific and philosophical ideas and traditional religion.
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