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The Impossibility of Religious Freedom
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

Paperback | 2007 | $37.50 | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780691130583
320 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 20 halftones.
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The Constitution may guarantee it. But religious freedom in America is, in fact, impossible. So argues this timely and iconoclastic work by law and religion scholar Winnifred Sullivan. Sullivan uses as the backdrop for the book the trial of Warner vs. Boca Raton, a recent case concerning the laws that protect the free exercise of religion in America. The trial, for which the author served as an expert witness, concerned regulations banning certain memorials from a multiconfessional nondenominational cemetery in Boca Raton, Florida. The book portrays the unsuccessful struggle of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish families in Boca Raton to preserve the practice of placing such religious artifacts as crosses and stars of David on the graves of the city-owned burial ground.

Sullivan demonstrates how, during the course of the proceeding, citizens from all walks of life and religious backgrounds were harassed to define just what their religion is. She argues that their plight points up a shocking truth: religion cannot be coherently defined for the purposes of American law, because everyone has different definitions of what religion is. Indeed, while religious freedom as a political idea was arguably once a force for tolerance, it has now become a force for intolerance, she maintains.

A clear-eyed look at the laws created to protect religious freedom, this vigorously argued book offers a new take on a right deemed by many to be necessary for a free democratic society. It will have broad appeal not only for religion scholars, but also for anyone interested in law and the Constitution.


"A smart-and in the present circumstances, sobering-little book."--Christopher Caldwell, Financial Times

"Sullivan's book has the great virtue of placing abstract legal dilemmas in the concrete realities of everyday life."--R. Laurence Moore, American Scholar

"Scholars or lay-people intrigued by the status of religion in contemporary developed nations will find Sullivan's study very useful."--John M. McTaggart, International Review of Modern Sociology

"Drawing on her expertise in law and religion, Sullivan argues that religious freedom in America is impossible. . . . [She] succeed[s] in arguing that religious freedoms are not as free as one might think."--Library Journal

"Sullivan's examination of the judicial process is only one important aspect her book. The most important contribution is her discussion of the problems of how law defines religion and through its definition impedes religious liberty."--Bryan K. Fair, Journal of Law and Religion


"This is a remarkably fine work that discusses the way religion is perceived and dealt with in the United States. The subject is of great moment not only in America but also in the world at large, and Sullivan has treated it with considerable analytical skill and ethnographic detail. The result is a powerful and convincing argument."--Talal Asad, City University of New York Graduate Center

"Provocative. Engaging. Valuable. Sullivan has created a kind of analytical triptych that captures some of the most important features of religions and law in the United States. It is a finely crafted portrait of an incredibly suggestive trial, a meditation on the political/legal status of folk religions in the United States, and a theoretical intervention into contemporary studies of religion jurisprudence."--Jason Bivins, North Carolina State University.

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Note on Sources xi
List of Illustrations xiii
Introduction 1
Chapter One: Outlaw Religion 13
Chapter Two: The Trial: The Plaintiffs 32
Chapter Three: The Trial: The Other Witnesses 54
Chapter Four: Legal Religion 89
Chapter Five: Free Religion 138
Appendix A: Relevant Law: Excerpts from U.S. and Florida Constitutions, RFRA, FRFRA, and Rules and Regulations of Boca Raton Cemetery 161
Appendix B: Expert Reports of Broyde, Katz, McGuckin, Pals, and Sullivan 179
Appendix C: Ryskamp Opinion 219
Notes 245
Bibliography 269
Index 281

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