chapter  1
25 Pages

Regulating religion in the United States

ByKathryn Montalbano

United States government agencies at the municipal, territorial, state, and federal levels have monitored religion since the mid-nineteenth century in order to ascertain how religious beliefs might prompt actions they have deemed subversive. Unlike contemporary critiques of the infringement of privacy spurred by mass surveillance, monitoring of religion raises comparatively nuanced, complicated defenses on behalf of the surveilled to protect religious expression that sits squarely in the public sphere. This chapter presents an overview of the three case studies that comprise this book, each of which examines how agents tried to understand the religious beliefs of each group and assess the connection between belief, expression, and action. The case studies are as follows: government monitoring of polygamous Mormons in the Territory of Utah in the period between 1870 and 1896, with a focus on six prominent United States Supreme Court anti-polygamy cases; FBI surveillance of communist infiltration of the Quakers of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) from the 1940s to the 1960s, based on a wide range of FBI documents located in the AFSC Archives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and New York Police Department (NYPD) post-September 11 surveillance of suspected existing or future Muslim terrorists in Brooklyn, New York, based on the 2013 federal law case settled in 2016, Raza v. City of New York. The chapter outlines the main arguments of the book to preliminarily draw connections across the case studies.