The Public Interest

Religious souls and the body politic

Michael W. McConnell

Spring 2004

ONE of the casualties of the September 11 attacks and the ensuing war on terrorism has been the easy attitude Americans typically have taken toward religion. Jefferson famously stated that it did not matter whether his neighbor believed in “twenty gods or no god.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” It is not so clearly a matter of indifference if one’s neighbor has declared a jihad. Recent events are forcing us to rethink the casual assumption that religion can be ignored for public purposes because it is thought to be irrelevant to public life.  We must also confront difficult questions about the potential conflict between loyalty to particular understandings of God and loyalty to the country and its way of life, as well as how a free society should regard its religious citizens.

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