The First Amendment
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Religious liberty in a time of terror?

Exploring the challenges of religious pluralism – past and present

By Bruce T. Murray
Author, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective

vienna shieldThe First Amendment’s precepts of religious liberty were fomented at a time when England and Europe were embroiled in religious civil wars, and the Ottoman Empire was threatening conquest of the continent. Despite the bloodshed between Catholics and Protestants and the Sultan’s advancing armies, the leading thinkers in colonial America struck out on a different course, which culminated in the drafting of the First Amendment’s religious liberty clauses: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”


The University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, shows how the United States arrived at its unique constitutional arrangement separating church and state, while guaranteeing freedom of religion and individual conscience.

While some of the early conflicts are now settled, many of today’s contentious issues relating to religion and politics are very much the same, as Murray documents. Throughout the book’s seven chapters, Murray connects past and present, placing particular emphasis on current controversies such as the mixing of religion and politics, battles over religious symbols in the public square, the “culture wars,” immigration and faith-based initiatives.

“Murray 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, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

“Although the book's subtitle indicates that its focus is the First Amendment, the development of legal doctrine forms only part of the tale Murray seeks to tell. What he has in mind, instead, is to explain how American society accommodates diversity of religious belief and practice.”
Kevin R.C. Gutzman, History Department, Western Connecticut State University, the Independent Review, Winter, 2009

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

Find out more about the author here.

Review critical of Murray's treatment of religious diversity:

“Christianity seems to frame much of the book's focus, even though Murray consistently reminds us of the diversity of religious beliefs in the United States. A result is the (unintended) hint of ‘othering’ when non-Christian faith traditions are mentioned. In a two page discussion of Muslims in America (the most extensive in the book), Murray argues that ‘Muslims elicited fear and loathing in the West then as they do now,’ suggesting that after September 11, ‘Muslims may prove the ultimate test of American tolerance and commitment to free exercise of religion.’”
David A. Reichard, California State University Monterey Bay, The History Teacher, February 2009

See more book reviews here, and criticism here.