Friday, August 28, 2009

Identity politics and religious liberty

When this blog began my denomination was debating whether to remain affiliated with the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Much of the discussion necessarily involved whether that organization's rather strict interpretation of the alleged "wall of separation" between church and state was correct. An important factor in the debate was interpreting the beliefs of the Founders. Did Jefferson's metaphor, for instance, accurately describe how the First Amendment should be interpreted?

Mike Potemra at NRO recommends a new book about that subject:
Anyone who loves to grapple with the issue of religion in public life will enjoy Notre Dame professor Vincent Phillip Muñoz’s new book God and the Founders: Madison, Washington, and Jefferson, which painstakingly lays out the agreements and differences among these key figures and then applies their thought to the central church-state issues that have faced the Supreme Court over the past few decades.
Potemra then describes what Muñoz believes the best approach to the issue today:
Muñoz himself articulates a view he believes captures the best in their three approaches, a system he summarizes as “no legal privileges, no legal penalties”: The state would be allowed to acknowledge religion in symbolic fashion, but not in such a way as to “affect individuals’ rights.” His discussion of the singling out of religion in our current context is quite interesting:
Given modern identity politics . . . Madison’s prohibition against state recognition of religion can appear to single out religious persons or groups for unfavorable treatment. . . . If the state promotes Black History Month (officially the month of February), Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month (officially the month of April), and Gay Pride Week (usually in June) but cannot take cognizance of religious celebrations such as Christmas, religion seems subject to unequal treatment. In a more libertarian age when the state was not involved in the promotion of culture and identity, noncognizance would not have the same impact. But given modern identity politics, the prohibition against state recognition seems unnecessarily hostile toward religion. “No legal privileges, no legal penalties” would allow religion the same type of symbolic state acknowledgement that other identity and cultural groups receive.
Freedom from -- and for -- Religion - Mike Potemra - The Corner on National Review Online

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