The First Amendment
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UMass Press catalog

Published by the University of Massachusetts Press.

© Bruce T. Murray

"A wide-ranging analysis of the relationship between religion and politics in American life."

American History / Legal Studies / Religion

208 pgs.
$19.95 paper, ISBN 978-1-
$80.00 library cloth edition, ISBN
January, 2008

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Religious Liberty in America

The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective

front cover

Bruce T. Murray


In recent years a series of highly publicized controversies has focused attention on what are arguably the most important 16 words in the U.S. Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...”

The ongoing court battles over the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance; the seasonal cultural quarrel over “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays”; and President George W. Bush’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative – all of these issues reflect competing views of the meaning of the Religious Liberty Clauses of the First Amendment.

back cover Such disputes, as Bruce T. Murray shows, are nothing new. For more than 200 years, Americans have disagreed about the proper role of religion in public life and where to draw the line between church and state. In this volume, Murray re-examines these debates and distills the volumes of commentary and case law they have generated. He analyzes not only the changing contours of religious freedom but also the phenomenon of American civil religion, an outlook grounded in the notion that the American experiment is sanctified by a higher authority. This idea can be traced back to the earliest New England colonists and remains deeply ingrained in the American psyche.

Throughout the book, Murray connects the past and present, tracing the historical roots of contemporary controversies. He considers why it is that a country founded on the separation of church and state remains singularly religious among nations, and he concludes by showing how the Supreme Court’s thinking about the religious liberty clauses has evolved since the late eighteenth century.

“Bruce Murray seeks to lay out historically and conceptually the issues behind the two religious liberty clauses in the First Amendment. In doing so, he introduces and traces such significant topics as the development of religious pluralism and its ironic counterpart, civil religion. Nowhere is there such a clear and concise explanation of the issues as Murray offers in this book.”
Philip Goff, Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

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The University of Massachusetts Press catalog entry for Religious Liberty in America is available for download here. The UMass press release for the book is also available for download.

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Bruce T. Murray is an educational writer and former editor with the Los Angeles Times and the Orange County Register. He studied English and German literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is currently pursuing a Juris Doctor degree.