Religious Displays and the Voluntary Approach to Church and State
23 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2010
Date Written: 2010
This article, from a keynote talk for a symposium on Ten Commandments monuments and other government religious displays, argues that the distinctive constitutional approach to church-state relations in America has been the “voluntary” approach, under which government leaves religious practice to the free decisions and energies of individuals and groups. Several principles within that approach call for invalidating official displays that endorse the religious truth of propositions such as the Ten Commandments. But another key component of the American constitutional approach is that religion remains important to public life: indeed, in America a primary argument for religious freedom and other human rights has been a religious argument that rights are God-given and therefore have priority over government authority. Thus, although religious voluntarism calls for invalidating many government-sponsored religious displays, the rationale for doing so must recognize multiple ways in which religion is relevant to public life at the most fundamental levels. The paper concludes with three suggested means of recognizing that relevance.
Keywords: religious liberty, First Amendment, Religion Clauses, Establishment Clause, religious freedom, separation of church and state
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