I am delighted that an eminent legal scholar has responded to my piece, but I am baffled by most of his criticisms. Mr. Dane seems to think that I am arguing against the idea of the Christian Bible as a crucial text in the history of the American experiment. But I didn’t write that. I wholeheartedly agree with his tidy summation of American disestablishmentarianism. I am instead against the museum’s narrative of American history, which at its essence argues for the Bible as a literal source for guidance in American jurisprudence and governance.
Mr. Dane makes a fair point that there are many churches and religious organizations near the capital. But nobody will be dropping by the National Council of Churches before hitting the Smithsonian, and the National Cathedral is a fair distance from the Mall. Thus I think it’s a bit naïve to argue that the location of the museum “perfectly embodies” the role of religion “outside the halls of government.” The location of the Museum of the Bible was deliberately chosen to reinforce, in visitors, a vision of the role of religion inside the halls of government. It does demonstrate a failure of civic education if visitors can’t untangle these strands. But I wonder if Mr. Dane is aware of how in American schools the teaching of the church and state issues has been deliberately muddled by religious conservatives.
I am grateful to Mr. Dane for reminding me that the Liberty Bell is emblazoned with a quote from Leviticus. For most Americans, however, the bell is not a symbol of Jubilee or abolition. It’s a symbol of the American Revolution. And I wonder if Mr. Dane has noticed that right now the wall of separation needs shoring up. I wouldn’t dare argue legal points with Mr. Dane. But as a religion writer, I have a pretty firm grasp on the narratives and goals of the Christian right.