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Jews and Muslims in Christian America

The adjudication of religious life in the United States plays out on a field generated by, on the one hand, our Constitution and the political institutions that flow from it, and on the other, by a religious culture that hugely values religious freedom but that has also been highly inflected by various claims that the United States is a Christian nation. These conditions create a central dilemma: are there circumstances in which religious beliefs and the practices that issue from them make a group seem incapable of being good citizens—even though the nation’s basic values would seem to preclude religious identity as a condition of citizenship. The United States has been defined in various ways as a “Christian nation”; if so, how do Jews and Muslims—whose understandings of such things as sacred space, sacred time, food, and the religious meaning of the state, can be quite different from those of Christians—fit into American society? Does religion create potential fault lines around these things, and, if so, how? American political and culture systems can generally handle most differences, but a few issues are explosive—particularly those that question whether a group’s religion precludes its becoming loyal to the United States, i.e., becoming American citizens.

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