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Document Type

Article in Response to Controversy

Abstract

The thesis of this paper is that the fifty-year-old experiment of interpreting the First Amendment as a complete and absolute separation of church and state—a wall of separation as the familiar trope puts it—has not achieved the stated goal of producing civil peace between people with different views about religion. Further, the prospect of achieving this sort of peace in the near future does not seem likely.

In this paper, I will discuss the significance of public speech in a democratic polity. Then I will consider the complexity of the church-state-polity question, arguing that this complexity makes complete separation between these realms of democratic life difficult if not impossible, and in some deep sense not only unnecessary but inappropriate. Finally, I will consider the implications of thinking in terms of freedom of conscience rather than separation of church and state.

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