Jean Bethke Elshtain
dark and menacing religious forces that they contend are poised to stage a theocratic coup. This is fanciful, of course, but such arguments have gained traction inside the U.S. academy.
The late philosopher Richard Rorty, a subscriber to this type of thinking, went so far as to proclaim that atheists make better citizens. Not surprisingly, he was hard pressed to back this assertion with empiri- cal data. After all, so many of the great public figures in U.S. history were either deeply religious or kindly disposed toward religion. To the secularists, however, relegating religion solely to the private sphere—it must never show its face in public—is the sine qua non of democracy, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. And the body of evidence is vast. Stout writes,
Abolitionism was born in the revival tents of the Second Great Awaken- ing. . . . The struggle for women’s suffrage was another product of the Second Great Awakening. The labor movement was rooted in the Social Gospel. During the Civil Rights movement, there was only one Martin Luther King Jr., but there were thousands of ministers mobilizing their churches in support of civil rights.6
Stout also notes the profoundly important roles played by Lutheran churches in East Germany and the Catholic Church in Poland in the triumph over Soviet domination and the transition to democracy. Adam Michnik (not Catholic himself), a key figure in the Workers’ Defense Committee and Solidarity movement, declared “secularism . . . a dead end for Poland.”7 Why is this important? It is important for the United States because excising religion from public life would gut U.S. civil society, where churches and synagogues and, more recently, mosques have done and continue to do nearly all the heavy lifting, so to speak.
In an international context, the issue of religion in public life acquires even greater exigency. For example, both France and Turkey (which mod- eled itself on France) officially mandate la¦cité, and this is proving deeply problematic for faithful Muslims—not theocrats but ordinary Muslims who do not want to remove the signs and symbols of their faith from public sight; hence the controversy over Muslim schoolgirls wearing the characteristic headscarf (hijab) to school. In France, with the headscarf banned in public schools, many Muslim schoolchildren have enrolled in private institutions. In fact, an estimated “10 percent of the two million students in Catholic schools” are now Muslim.
The quiet migration of Muslims to private Catholic schools highlights how hard it has become for state schools, long France’s tool for integration, to keep their promise of equal opportunity. . . . The shift from these schools is another indication of the challenge facing the strict form of secularism known as “la¦cité.”8