The Myth of American Religious Freedom (Updated Edition)

ISBN : 9780190247218

David Sehat
382 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Nov 2015
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In the battles over religion and politics in America, both liberals and conservatives often appeal to history. But in The Myth of American Religious Freedom, historian David Sehat provides an eye-opening history of religion in public life that overturns our most cherished myths. Originally, he shows, the First Amendment applied only to the federal government, which had limited authority. On the state level, a Protestant moral establishment ruled over Catholics, Jews, Mormons, agnostics, and others. Not until 1940 did the Supreme Court extend the First Amendment to the states. As the Court began to dismantle the connections between religion and government, religious conservatives mobilized to maintain their power and began the culture wars of the last fifty years. To trace the rise and fall of this Protestant establishment, Sehat focuses on a series of dissenters-abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, progressive pundit Walter Lippmann, and many others. Shattering myths held by both the left and the right, this book forces us to rethink some of our most deeply held political beliefs.


Preface to the Paperback Edition
Introduction: The Myth of American Religious Freedom
Part I Moral Law
1 Contested Liberties
2 A Godless Government?
3 The Moral Establishment
Part II Challengers
4 The Moral Purpose of Slavery and Abolition
5 Moral Reproduction and the Family
Part III Retrenchment
6 Morals, Citizenship, and Segregation
7 Women's Rights, Woman's Individuality, and the Bible
8 Religion, Morals, and Law
Part IV Fragmentation
9 A Conflict of Authorities
10 Liberal and Conservative Moral Visions
11 The Liberal Moment
12 A Moral Majority?
Conclusion: Moral Maximalism and Religious Control
Postscript to the Paperback Edition

About the author: 

David Sehat is Associate Professor of History at Georgia State University. He is also the author of The Jefferson Rule: How the Founding Fathers Became Infallible and Our Politics Inflexible.

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