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Document Type

Symposium

Abstract

(Excerpt)

Under this approach—which clearly prioritizes the protection of religious exercise as well as the religious messages of cultural and political institutions—it appears that the Establishment Clause plays little or no role independent of the Free Exercise Clause. My question, then, is whether Christian legal thought compels us, or at least supports, such a reading of the Establishment Clause. In other words, does this lack of concern for non-establishment norms inhere in Christian legal and political thought? I look to Patrick Brennan and William Brewbaker’s casebook—Christian Legal Thought: Materials and Cases (“CLT”) —in search of a framework for exploration. And I am not disappointed. The book provides a treasure of excerpts, commentary, and questions that can enlighten our understanding of Christian perspectives on Establishment Clause interpretation and on notions of non-establishment more generally. While only a small part of the book explicitly addresses modern notions of “church and state” and establishment, CLT provides a comprehensive review of each of the major traditions within Christianity (Catholic, Lutheran, Anabaptist, Calvinist, and Reformed) and develops multiple, interconnected concepts—the nature of church, society, state, authority, culture, and the purpose of law—all of which are implicated in Establishment Clause interpretation. In some senses, the entire book helps us explore the question I pose. But I refer more specifically to those concepts that inform our understanding in the specific American legal context. Indeed, CLT shows us how integral Christian concepts are to the way we think and speak about law, and the way we are politically and socially organized. It implicitly criticizes the task of some Establishment Clause interpretations to “separate out” what is religious. On the other hand, it recognizes the modern conditions and challenges of religious pluralism within a secular state. CLT provides students and scholars with the intellectual resources to consider the meaning of non-establishment in a holistic and nuanced way.

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