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Contemporary liberalism faces no greater dilemma than deciding how to deal with the resurgence of religious belief. On the one hand, liberals cherish religion, as they cherish all matters of private conscience, and liberal theory holds that the state should do nothing to discourage free religious choice. At the same time, contemporary liberals are coming to view any religious element in public moral discourse as a tool of the radical right for the reshaping of American society, and that reshaping is something liberals want very much to discourage.
In truth, liberal politics has always been uncomfortable with religious fervor. If liberals cheered the clerics who marched against segregation and the Vietnam War, it was only because the causes were considered just—not because the clerics were devout. Nowadays, people who bring religion into the making of public policy come more frequently from the right, and the liberal response all too often is to dismiss them as fanatics. Even the religious left is sometimes offended by the mainstream liberal tendency to mock religious belief. Not long ago, the magazine Sojourners—published by politically liberal Christian evangelicals—found itself in the unaccustomed position of defending the evangelist Pat Robertson against secular liberals who, the magazine sighed, "see[m] to consider Robertson a dangerous Neanderthal because he happens to believe that God can heal diseases."' The point is that the editors of Sojourners, who are no great admirers of the Reverend Robertson, also believe that God can cure disease. So do tens of millions of Americans. Conservativism, with its deep emphasis on the immutability of certain traditional values, is relatively comfortable with the idea that the values it preserves may have a source beyond the arbitrary moral judgments of fallible humanity. Liberalism, steeped as it is in skepticism, rationalism and tolerance, unfortunately has little idea of how to cope with the millions of people who embrace so absurd a notion. The answer up to now has been to repeat, like a catechism, the language of the Supreme Court in School District of Abington Township v. Schempp: "the command of the First Amendment [is] that the Government maintain strict neutrality, neither aiding nor opposing religion."
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