Religion & Public Life
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Celebrating America’s Kulturkampf

Book delves into the ‘culture wars’ and other battles of religion and politics

In the past century, German-U.S. relations were most often defined by the two world wars, with the two nations at the opposite end of a bayonet. It wasn’t always this way. Some of America’s greatest Christian theologians hailed from Germany, and even the celebration of Christmas is a German import.


The new University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, reviews the history of religion and politics in America for the past 400 years – from early colonial times to the present. The religious disputes in Europe stemming from the Protestant Reformation had a profound effect on America, and reverberations from this history continue to exert an influence in modern times.

The current Kulturkampf in America is embodied in the battle between “traditionalists” and secularists – often represented by the American Civil Liberties union. This battle heats up every December with controversy over the “correct” holiday greeting – “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?

In earlier centuries, the debate over Christmas was entirely different. It turns out the celebration of Christmas was brought to America somewhat late in colonial history by German Lutheran immigrants and Catholics. The early American Puritans and Calvinists objected to the celebration of Christmas, Justice William Brennan observed in 1984 Supreme Court case, Lynch v. Donnelly.

Religious Liberty in America traces the origins of this and many other debates regarding religion and public life. Throughout the book, Murray connects past and present, showing 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 concludes by showing how the Supreme Court's thinking about the religious liberty clauses has evolved since the late eighteenth century.

“This book is a splendid presentation of the First Amendment, ‘with civil religion as a parallel theme’ — especially as presently related to so many issues in American political and religious life. Other books on these issues have been appearing of late, but none as clear and thorough as this one.”
G.H. Shriver, Professor Emeritus, Georgia Southern University

Purchase Religious Liberty in America on the University of Massachusetts Press Web site.

Find out more about the author here.