'The Indispensable Basis of Democracy': American Catholicism, the Church-State Debate, and the Soul of American Liberalism, 1900-1920
37 Pages Posted: 22 May 2009
Date Written: May 18, 2005
Several recent works of scholarship explore how Establishment Clause jurisprudence has been shaped by broader political debates over the role of religion in public life. This literature focuses on the politics of anti-Catholicism, particularly during the early years of Establishment Clause jurisprudence in the1940s and 1950s. While not questioning the centrality of this period to the historical narrative, this Note argues that the political contest over church and state took shape in an earlier debate over the compatibility of Catholicism and the Constitution during the 1920s. The Church’s response to the anti-Catholicism of this period was of particular importance. Catholic apologists actively challenged the widespread argument that Catholicism could not be reconciled with a democratic liberal political order. In fact, Catholics not only defended the doctrinal compatibility of Catholic social thought and the constitutional separation of church and state. They argued that Catholicism was ideally suited to preserving the moral foundations of the free society. Far from imperiling American democracy, Catholicism was, in the words of the Church’s leading social theorist, "The Indispensable Basis of Democracy." Thus, rather than aiming to depoliticize the church-state fracas of the 1920s, American Catholics drove the issue ever more fully into the realm of politics and culture. In the process, Catholics developed a worldview that now stands at the heart of Establishment Clause politics.
Keywords: Catholicism, Catholic, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Religion, Anti-Catholicism, John A. Ryan, John Courtney Murray
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