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Denis Lacorne identifies two competing narratives defining the American identity. is predicated on separating religion from politics to preserve political freedom from an overpowering church. free from religion and the weight of ancient history, embraced this American effort to establish Religion, Culture, and Public Life.
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Political Science. Urban Studies. Labor Studies. Middle East Studies. Battlegrounds: Cornell Studies in Military History. Cornell Studies in Security Affairs. Cornell Series in Environmental Education. The Liberty Hyde Bailey Library. Expertise: Cultures and Technologies of Knowledge. The United States in the World. Zona Tropical Publications. Histories and Cultures of Tourism. Histories of American Education. New Netherland Institute Studies.


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But religious colleges and charities are not and cannot. To them, the administration offers a so-called accommodation. The details are complex, but a recent statement issued by Cardinal Dolan of New York identifies the key issue: Who counts as a religious employer? The Catholic Church and her allies want a broad definition that includes Catholic health care, Catholic universities, and Catholic charities. For-profit companies are not religious in the way that Notre Dame University is religious. Nonetheless, the religious beliefs of those who own and run businesses in America should be accorded some protection.

This idea the Obama administration flatly rejects. By their progressive way of thinking, economic life should be under the full and unlimited control of the federal government. Religious liberty is undermined in a third and different way as well.

Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life

For a long time, political theorists like John Rawls have argued that our laws must be based on so-called public reason, which is in fact an ambiguous, ill-defined concept that gives privileged status to liberalism. This line of thinking is not unique to Judge Walker. The influence of Rawls has been extensive, leading to restrictions on the use of religious reasons or even religiously-influenced reasons in public debate. Here we come to the unifying feature of contemporary challenges to religious freedom—the desire to limit the influence of religion over public life.

Thus our present clashes over religious liberty. The Constitution protects religious liberty in two ways.

Religion, Culture, and Public Life

First, it prohibits laws establishing a religion. This prevents the dominant religion from using the political power of majority rule to privilege its own doctrines to the disadvantage of others. Second, it prohibits laws that limit the free exercise of religion. Rise of the Nones This shift in legal thinking on the Left reflects underlying religious trends.

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As the religious character of our society changes, so do our assumptions about religious freedom. The main change has been the rise of the Nones.

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That number has grown, especially in the last decade, to 20 percent of the population. And Nones are heavily represented in elite culture. A great deal of higher education is dominated by Nones, as are important cultural institutions, the media, and Hollywood. They are conscious of their power, and they feel the momentum of their growth.

At the same time, the number of Americans who say they go to church every week has remained strikingly constant over the last 50 years, at around 35 percent. Sociologists of religion think this self-reported number is higher than the actual one, which may be closer to 25 percent. In any event, the social reality is the same. As the Nones have emerged as a significant cohort, the committed core of religious people has not declined and in fact has become unified and increasingly battle tested.

These two trends—the rise of the Nones and the consolidation of the committed core of believers—have led to friction in public life. The Nones and religious Americans collide culturally and politically, not just theologically. For a long time, the press has reported on the influence of religious voters, especially Evangelicals. Polling data shows that religiosity has become increasingly reliable as a predictor of political loyalties.

Seventy percent of those who never say grace before meals identify as Democrats, compared to slightly more than 20 percent who identify as Republicans. Nones are extremely ideological. Meanwhile, among those who say grace daily, 40 percent identify as Democrats and 50 percent as Republicans. Religious people are more diverse, but they trend to the political right, and the more religious they are the more likely they are to vote Republican. Other data also suggests a growing divide between the irreligious and religious.

A recent Pew study confirms that Nones are the single most ideologically committed cohort of white Americans, rivaled only by Evangelical Protestants. They overwhelmingly support abortion and gay marriage. Seventy-five percent of them voted for Barack Obama in , and they played a decisive role in his victory in In Ohio, Obama lost the Protestant vote by three percent and the Catholic vote by eleven percent—and both numbers rise if we isolate Protestants and Catholics who say they go to church every week.

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But he won the Nones, who make up 12 percent of the electorate in Ohio, by an astounding 47 percent. For the first time in American political history, the winning party deliberately attacked religion. This presents the deepest threat to religious liberty today.