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The Myth of American Religious Freedom
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The Myth of American Religious Freedom

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating Details ·  66 Ratings  ·  17 Reviews

In the battles over religion and politics in America, both liberals and conservatives often appeal to history. Liberals claim that the Founders separated church and state. But for much of American history, David Sehat writes, Protestant Christianity was intimately intertwined with the state. Yet the past was not the Christian utopia that conservatives imagine either. Inste
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Published December 17th 2010 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published December 11th 2010)
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Sehat's real set of concerns and theses is in his concluding chapter, which could be read as an essay on its own if someone wanted to skip the legwork he does in walking through the history of what he's describing. Among them are strong challenges to both liberal and conservative judicial impulses. I valued the historical approach and the tour-de-force of topics from the early discussions amongst Jefferson and Madison forward to some of the most recent SCOTUS decisions (the book was published in ...more
Ross Emmett
Jan 03, 2011 Ross Emmett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Given that Sehat follows in the same tradition of American intellectual historiography that I do, you will not be surprised to find that I found his argument compelling, even if I would quibble over some things. A healthy civil society, he argues, "preserves a disorderly space that provides a buffer between the power of the state and the freedom of individuals and serves as a breeding ground for the contentious politics that are a healthy part of modern democracies" (p. 285, my emphasis). In thi ...more
Alan Johnson
For an excellent synopsis of this book, see the official book description here.

Although I do not agree with all of the author's arguments and interpretations, this is a book that should be read by all serious students of American history and constitutional law. It presents a wealth of information, especially regarding the nineteenth century, that is not well known. Whatever one's ultimate opinions concerning the book's thesis and subsidiary arguments, the author has made a substantial contribut
Jun 10, 2011 Emma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is interesting but tedious. It disabused me of many incorrect assumptions I had regarding American history and religion. An important book to read if you think that America is a Christian nation or a secular one.

Read my full review at my book review blog, Em and Emm Expound on Exposition.
May 11, 2012 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As the teach of a secular subject (history) at a Christian college, I was well aware of the arguments that stated an unequivocal "Christian nation" which privileges Christian "religious liberty" first and foremost. Likewise, I was aware of the liberal arguments that posited a secular religious liberty tradition dating back to the country's founding, and which needed tending and revitalization if we were to truly honor the First Amendment.

Sehat's book wades full-on into that debate. He tackles th
Oct 20, 2014 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Essentially argues that before the three decade liberal exception (1936-1968), conservative Protestantism was the de facto moral establishment of the United States, and its adherents worked against all aspects of liberalization and plurality through moral coercion, often in the courts. Every major challenge, from emancipation, to the rights of women, to labor activism, was an assault on this moral establishment by those who promoted the rights of the individual over the moral needs of the group. ...more
Dan Gorman
Jul 07, 2014 Dan Gorman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yes, the first 50 pages are so dense it is at times frustrating. But holy revisionist history, Batman, this is a great read. Like, one of those game-changing history books (yes, I used "Like" in the colloquial sense, that's how strongly I feel). In this book, we see how the unsung heroes of American history, from the Framers onward, tend to be those who argue in favor of religious freedom, not just to believe what you want, BUT ALSO not to impose your beliefs on others. This book summarizes in e ...more
Aug 21, 2014 Gary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Religious freedom has only come recently to America. Originally, the Protestant moral establishment ruled on the state level. Using moral laws to uphold religious power, religious partisans enforced a moral and religious orthodoxy against Catholics, Jews, Mormons, agnostics, and others. Not until 1940 did the U.S. Supreme Court extend the First Amendment to the states. As the Supreme Court began to dismantle the connections between religion and government, Sehat argues, religious conservatives ...more
Apr 13, 2014 Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would make this a must-read for those who are interested in America's religious wars. The United States' much touted religious freedom is not so free when you begin to examine the historical record. According to the author (and a lot of the history that I have read) real religious freedom has never really existed in this country. I pissed me off because people still parrot the myths that have been fed to use for years. From the beginning, the only religion that was "free" in the USA is Protest ...more
Jan 18, 2013 Kristi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well-argued, provocative, compelling, and very important history. Sehat astutely deconstructs the myths of religious freedom used by both the political right and left to reveal the closely intertwined connections between religion and government in America. Sehat uses the history of religious dissenters to reveal the depth of power and control wielded by Protestant Americans to instill civil law with moral orthodoxy. The issues raised in this book remain strikingly relevant to legal morality de ...more
Sep 20, 2012 Zahir rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book contained terriffic analysis about religious freedom in the US. What I thought was most impressive is that Sehat is respectful to all sides, he doens't take a partisan view (although you can tell that he tilts toward the secular). Sehat's analysis is a very intellectual and honest view about some of the good and bad aspects of the religious fabric of American culture, and how the struggles and debates that occur today about the place of religion in American life has indeed been going o ...more
Nov 05, 2012 Alan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well argued, if provocative, account of the interplay of religion and government in U.S. history. Sehat convincingly demonstrates that the current debate over the role of religion in public policy formation is nothing new; and he shows that both liberal and conservative arguments are founded in myth rather than historical fact.
Zach Waldis
Jul 06, 2016 Zach Waldis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sehat is not an objective reporter, but he does well in helping to inform interpreters of American history, both liberal and conservative, that their caricature of America is exactly that.
I got through the second great awakening and lost steam. It is an interesting read and his take on American religious "freedom" is pretty interesting. I may come back to it one day.
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Jul 19, 2012 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
David Sehat is an academic badass.
Kel Munger
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Oct 07, 2015 Nicai rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Only reading this for a class but it was interesting.
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David Sehat is Associate Professor of History at Georgia State University. Specializing in American cultural and intellectual history, he completed a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and spent a postdoctoral year at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a Visiting Scholar.
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