chapter  4
26 Pages

From Christian America to Free Exercise

The Changing Nature of the Church–State Debate
WithTed G. Jelen

This chapter focuses on the contents of the arguments employed by the protagonists in the church–state debate. Activists who favor a vigorous religious presence in American politics have altered the justifications they offer for such a position. Proponents of an assertive public religious presence have changed from a position of Christian preferentialism to one of religious non-preferentialism. The chapter examines two common justifications for the assertion of religious values in political discourse: that religion provides social cohesion, and that it contributes significantly to individual liberty. It explores the normative dimensions of the arguments about the role religion should play in democratic politics. The chapter describes a change in the rhetoric concerning the role religion plays in American political life. In order to analyze the various arguments regarding the appropriate role of religion in a democracy, it is helpful to consider briefly some characteristics of democratic politics.