Abstract

In comparative perspective, the American religion–state regime is generally considered as strictly separationist, with a “wall of separation” keeping religion and state apart. This article traces a recent move away from this toward a European-style “modest establishment,” in which religion and state cooperate in the fulfillment of important social functions. The mechanism for bringing about this change has been an increasingly conservative Supreme Court that has partially incorporated the agenda of the Christian Right. However, the attack on separationism was differently successful in different domains. The greatest success has been achieved with respect to access to public resources, where the wall of separation has been “breached.” With respect to religious symbols in the public sphere, I argue, the wall has merely been “battered.” This is because the state can align itself with religion only indirectly, by secularizing it as culture and tradition. These developments are contrasted with religion–state relations in Europe, which have moved in the opposite direction, from vestigial establishment to stronger forms of separation.

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