Monthly Archives: January 2014

New Pew study on religious freedom in the US

A student in a continuing education class I taught last semester on church-state issues sent me the following link about a new Pew study on restrictions on religious freedom in various parts of the world:

The U.S. Puts ‘Moderate’ Restrictions on Religious Freedom (The Atlantic)

I haven’t had a chance to look at the study itself, but the moment I read that “according to Pew, the U.S. saw a marked increase in hostility toward religion starting in 2009, and this level remained consistent in the following years,” I thought: Okay-y-y…  And then I kept reading, with my “hermeneutic of suspicion” antennae fully extended, to see what specific actions would be represented as constituting “hostility toward religion.” Because what makes church-state issues so thorny is precisely the fact that Americans can’t agree on what constitutes “hostility toward religion.” When a court orders a public school to take down Warner Sallman’s painting Head of Christ, is that an act of hostility toward religion (as the religious right painted it), or is it an exercise of the constitutional mandate forbidding an establishment of religion (as the court held)?

I had to scroll all the way down to the end of the article before I started getting specific examples of what Pew considered “hostility toward religion.” It appears, from what I’ve seen so far, that Pew cast a widely inclusive net in an effort to be non-partisan in acknowledging various kinds of concerns that advocates cast in terms of religious freedom. The article mentions campaigns to block construction of mosques, but also Obamacare’s requiring Catholic institutions to provide coverage for birth control. Oh, but wait, second thought: Should I read that as an attempt to be non-partisan, or as a partisan ploy to put Obamacare’s contraception mandate on a par with blocking the construction of mosques?

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