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The Last Freedom:
Religion from the Public School to the Public Square
Joseph P. Viteritti

Hardcover | 2007 | $27.95 | £22.95 | ISBN: 9780691130118
296 pp. | 6 x 9
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400827848 |
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A Q&A with Joseph P. Viteritti

The presidency of George W. Bush has polarized the church-state debate as never before. The Far Right has been emboldened to use religion to govern, while the Far Left has redoubled its efforts to evict religion from public life entirely. Fewer people on the Right seem to respect the church-state separation, and fewer people on the Left seem to respect religion itself--still less its free exercise in any situation that is not absolutely private. In The Last Freedom, Joseph Viteritti argues that there is a basic tension between religion and democracy because religion often rejects compromise as a matter of principle while democracy requires compromise to thrive. In this readable, original, and provocative book, Viteritti argues that Americans must guard against debasing politics with either antireligious bigotry or religious zealotry. Drawing on politics, history, and law, he defines a new approach to the church-state question that protects the religious and the secular alike.

Challenging much conventional opinion, Viteritti argues that the courts have failed to adequately protect religious minorities, that the rights of the religious are under greater threat than those of the secular, and that democracy exacts greater compromises and sacrifices from the religious than it does from the secular. He takes up a wide range of controversies, including the pledge of allegiance, school prayer, school vouchers, evolution, abortion, stem-cell research, gay marriage, and religious displays on public property.

A fresh and surprising approach to the church-state question, The Last Freedom is squarely aimed at the wide center of the public that is frustrated with the extremes of both the Left and the Right.


"The book is a piece of excellent scholarship in the service of an argument that is carefully nuanced and balanced."--Clyde Wilcox, Political Science Quarterly

"In his impassioned book, Joseph P. Viteritti asserts that religious freedom is being suppressed by cultural élites....Viteritti finds that most Americans fall into an ambiguous 'hollow middle,' rejecting both rigid secularism and overly intrusive religion. Yet Americans generally favor religion's role in society, unlike the Supreme Court and government, which Viteritti says engineered secularization of public life and the public schools during recent decades."--Richard Ostling, Books and Culture

"Professor Viteritti has charted what he envisions to be a sensible, sensitive middle-of-the road solution to the strife between the Religious Right and the Secular Left...The author's line of argument is well informed and vigorous. I believe The Last Freedom is a valuable addition to the church/state school debate."--R.Murray Thomas, Teachers College Record

"Viteritti is particularly good when examining the inherent contradictions within the religious provisions of the First Amendment... His examinations of constitutional legal theory are fascinating, and his analysis of the Founders' thinking on religion is absolutely brilliant, a must read for any serious student of American religion."--Andrew Preston, Clare College, Cambridge University, 49th Parallel

"For those hoping to better understand not only our current debates about faith, politics, education, and citizenship, but also the history of America's experiment with religious freedom under and through law, The Last Freedom is a welcome and illuminating work."--Richard W. Garnett, First Things

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Table of Contents:

Preface ix
Acknowledgments xvii
Chapter 1: Fear and Loathing 1
Chapter 2: Religion and Public Life 15
Chapter 3: Tennessee Tales 44
Chapter 4: Why Schools Matter 66
Chapter 5: Politics, Education, and Religion 87
Chapter 6: Free Exercise, Vacated and Denied 114
Chapter 7: Ageless Wisdom 145
Chapter 8: American Landscape 176
Chapter 9: Conscience and Compromise 208
Notes 241
Index 263

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