Courting Disaster

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In The Dissent of the Governed, Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter warns of the American courts’ increasing imposition of secularism in America. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, designed to defend religious freedom in America from established churches, has come instead to be interpreted as protecting the public square from religion altogether. The imposition of secularism, Carter argues, belies liberalism’s claim of neutrality.

What implications does Carter’s argument have for the American Jewish community? In this 1999 review of Carter’s book in Azure, the Orthodox Union’s Nathan J. Diament highlights Carter’s warning that if they are made to feel marginalized and unprotected by the government then American religious communities could “undertake a . . . profound ‘disallegiance’ from the state as a whole,” a self-understanding that recalls the mood of delegates to the Constitutional Congress in 1774, who saw the British Crown failing to uphold true purposes of republican government.

The Dissent of the Governed should give pause to those who believe that the legal establishment in America can forever ignore the religious community. The desire to form communities, and the expectation that government will recognize the integrity of those communities, is fundamental to most religions. If religious citizens are consistently made to feel that the institutional deck is stacked against them, and that normal means of democratic expression are useless in preserving the life and values of their religious communities, it should come as no surprise if the debate over religion in America should one day move beyond the bounds of civil discourse—and enter darker, more turbulent waters.

Read the whole essay in Azure.

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