1994 – Stephen L. Carter

A law professor whose book asks hard questions about how separation of church and state often dismisses the importance of religious beliefs has earned the 1994 award.

Yale University professor Stephen L. Carter, renowned for his study of constitutional law, won the award for his 1993 book The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion.

“In our sensible zeal to keep religion from dominating our politics, we have created a political and legal culture that presses the religiously faithful to be other than themselves, to act publicly, and sometimes privately as well, as though their faith does not matter to them,” he wrote.

The book also refutes the current belief that religion is always on the political side of conservatives with the contention that politically liberal individuals often are motivated by devoutly held religious beliefs. Liberals must quit being suspicious of religion and recognize it as “a positive force in people’s lives,” he said.

Carter contends the U.S. Constitution’s framers, in separating church and state, intended not to protect the state from religion but instead to protect religious groups from the state. He suggests that policy-makers, courts and politicians should acknowledge that religious beliefs are vital to most Americans.

The author examines the tension between religious beliefs and the “law of the land” in areas such as abortion, the Branch Davidian complex siege in Waco, Texas, and the parental right to remove children from educational programs that conflict with their religious beliefs.