Reviewed by Gary M. Ross, associate director, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Freedom of Religion In America: Historical Roots, Philosophical Concepts and Contemporary Problems

Henry B. Clark II, ed., University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1982, 143 pages, $6.95, paper. Reviewed by Gary M. Ross, associate director, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Because discussions of religious liberty as embodied in church-state separation are always welcome, the bits and pieces of this anthology have immediate merit. And the value increases as readers note the caliber of its authors (all careful specialists in their respective areas) and the scope of its coverage (no less than the roots, concepts, and problems of religious freedom).

The book originates from a conference sponsored in 1981 by the short lived University of Southern California Center for Study of the American Experience and chaired by the editor of this volume in close association with Edwin S. Gaustad (University of California-Riverside) and Robert S. Ellwood (USC).

One theme of any such dialogue is the public role of churches in the light of First Amendment restraints. Henry Steele Commager, Robert Bellah, and James E. Wood, Jr., address this matter in possibly the best chapters of the book.

In various ways they dispel the myth that church-state separation muted, silenced, or made private the public voice of religion. Rather, religion was supposed to stabilize the body politic and lend coherence to society by promoting virtue, justice, and equality. If this abstract burden, which weakened over time, compromised the secularity of the state, it nevertheless stopped short of rendering it "Christian" in today's sense of the term.

Indeed, the foregoing does not justify New Right behavior in our time. With admirable balance (and a helpful annotated bibliography to back him) 32 MINISTRY/MARCH/1984 Richard V. Pierard finds nothing wrong with politically active Christian conservatism per se, yet faults the style of such in the eighties. He questions legislative proposals that would threaten pluralism and worries over a wrongful, highly selective morality that disregards the needy and oppressed.

A second important theme of the book is the consolidation of religious freedom in America. Pressure from religious groups, especially beleaguered ones that suffered ridicule, was no doubt decisive in this process. Jay P. Dolan describes how Catholics pushed the legal system toward greater inclusiveness in its definitions of religion and applications of religious freedom. Joseph P. Chinnici shows Catholics to have advocated religious freedom for quite other social reasons—their high culture, which included familiarity with writers of the Enlightenment, and their frequent interaction with peoples of various denominations in worship and in the pursuit of common projects.

The story is different for American Jews. Theirs was a propensity for social action and communal welfare. This propensity, Moses Rischin suggests, caused a disregard for the technicalities of church-state separation and encouraged collaboration with a government whose social ethics and concerns appeared boundless. Hence the ease with which Jewish religious leaders could eventually seek public funding for private schools.

Jonathan Butler presents the case of Protestants, especially Sabbatarians who through arduous litigation and appeal strengthened free exercise protections. Implicitly, however, he makes another point. Government, often styled the antagonist of religious freedom, has been its maker, and this not just at the beginning of our history.

This sampling of provocative material must confine itself to one more theme, that of "de facto establishment"—the religious hegemony that prevails at a point in time. Initially, of course, the legitimate expression of American religion was white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. Then a troika of Catholic-Protestant-Jew won acceptance. Now that ring widens.

Various authors, in the presentation of these latter dynamics, provide tools for differentiating accepted religion from the "wildcats," and strategies for those that would assimilate. They examine the nonnormative religions sociologically (as for light they throw on the status of women) and weigh their tendency to chip away at the public consensus. In this story plural ism ad infinitum becomes the bankruptcy, rather than the fulfillment, of the American dream.

Considering the book as a whole, readers may find it choppy, uneven, and dated (it assumes the New Right's ascendency and does not foresee its fall as registered by numerous indices starting in late 1982). But provocative it also is. Fresh ideas update the subject, and spark sufficient interest to ensure its further study.


Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus
Reviewed by Gary M. Ross, associate director, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

March 1984

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Undiplomatic relations

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, throughout its history strongly supportive of the United States's constitutional separation of church and state, takes a dim view of the recent establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Vatican. In this article, B. B. Beach points out that while in the past the Holy See might justifiably have requested diplomatic recognition on the basis of its having a significant political dominion, this is no longer true. And he gives five reasons the Seventh-day Adventist Church opposes President Reagan's move.

How accurate is Biblical chronology?

Ussher pegged Creation as beginning on the evening of October 22, 4004 B.C. His dates appeared in the margins of Bibles as late as 1910, and not until the rise of modern archeology has his dominance in the area of chronology really weakened. In this article the author examines some of the results of archeology on Ussher's dates and certain difficulties inherent in the Biblical chronological data.

A corner called Cherith

Elijahs ministry included both moments of high excitement and times of quiet service. In those quiet hours Elijah learned lessons that sustained and enriched his ministry through its more dynamic phases'. God often leads us to modern-day Cheriths.

Teach your child at home?

MINISTRY editor J. R. Spangler interviews Dr. Raymond Moore, director of the Hewitt Research Foundation and longtime advocate of home schools. Many pastors and churches are becoming increasingly interested in home schooling. What are the advantages? The disadvantages? How long should home schooling continue? What about State truancy laws? Can a parent be an adequate teacher, and is home schooling for every child?

What's new in Jerusalem?

Recent archeological work in Jerusalem has been particularly productive. Some of these finds include the oldest coin found in Israel and houses of the well-to-do of Jesus' time.

Shepherdess: Whirlwinds of stress

Stress is not unique to modern life. Jesus certainly experienced it too. While we may learn a lot from modern strategies for handling pressure, Jesus' life reveals important principles we shouldn't neglect.

Emotion in preaching

In this article, Dr. Bresee deals with the role of emotion in worship, particularly in preaching. He answers the questions as to how logic and emotion should be related and in what sequence they should come in the sermon, and gives six principles for using emotion in preaching.

Whatever happened to the resurrection?

Without the cross there would be no resurrection, but without the resurrection the cross would only memorialize a wasteful martyrdom.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - SermonView - WideSkyscraper (160x600)