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Church, State, and the Tyranny of Feelings

Church, State, and the Tyranny of Feelings

(p.23) 2 Church, State, and the Tyranny of Feelings
Landscapes of the Secular
Nicolas Howe
University of Chicago Press

This chapter draws on interviews with secular activists and their opponents to show how “emotion talk” works at the most intimate, local level of legal conflict. It focus on cases involving the public display of Christian symbols such as crosses and nativity scenes because these are both the most familiar to observers of American religious politics, and, the chapter argues, the most consistently misunderstood. Although it does not offer a systematic historical account of how this genre of legal drama developed, this chapter explores its roots in mid-century activism by Jews who contested the resurgence of crypto-protestant civil religion in the postwar era, and it shows how they and subsequent secularists have used the Establishment Clause to question that most unquestionable of political emotions, reverence. It also shows how their opponents, in response, have dismissed that questioning as an expression of hatred and resentment, encoded as “taking offense.”

Keywords:   religious pluralism, public space, civil religion, Establishment Clause, emotion

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