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date: 17 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The debate over religion in public schools in the United States since the 1960s has pitted two forces of democracy celebrated in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract against each other. The Supreme Court’s exclusion of sectarian prayer and Bible reading reflected democracy’s commitment to respect the rights of all. The politically engaged response of evangelical and conservative Christians has drawn upon democracy’s need for robust participation by ordinary citizens. While Rousseau believed that only an agreement upon a civil religion could reconcile these democratic forces, the results of a required world religions course in Modesto, California, suggests otherwise. The course enhanced students’ respect for religious liberty while allowing them to maintain their sectarian beliefs. Modesto’s course did not resolve all the dilemmas of democracy, however. The aversion to open-ended class discussions neglects the value of democratic deliberation that notable democratic theorists like Jurgen Habermas and Amy Gutmann celebrate.

Keywords: democracy, deliberation, religious liberty, world religions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, evangelical Christianity

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