Separation of Church and State in the United States: Lost in Translation?

Greenhouse, Carol J.
July 2006
Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies;Summer2006, Vol. 13 Issue 2, p493
Academic Journal
In this article, the absence of an American equivalent to the French word laïcité becomes an ethnographic opening to an exploration of the church-state divide in the U.S. context. Drawing on classic social theory, sociological accounts, and current events, I suggest that the constitutional separation of church and state--in addition to whatever it may mean in legal terms--also expresses a cultural proposition. Specifically, the separation of church and state posits a dual role for local communities as both the source of federal power (through representative government) and the foundation of its moral authority. The latter role can be sustained only to the extent that moral community is conceptualized as "outside" the state, extending to the state solely through the democratic process. The article concludes with a reflection on the politicization of "moral values" in the 2004 presidential election.


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