The first national institute on Religious Freedom and Public Affairs, held November 18–21 in Washington, D.C., brought together a hundred representatives of the elements composing the American religious scene. Sponsored by The National Conference of Christians and Jews, the institute was designed to encourage the freest discussion of the relation of the diversities of American religious pluralism to public order.

Four major groups were represented at the institute: Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, and exponents of secularism (these regarding themselves as exponents of “the Open Society”). Each of these appealed to its own understanding of the American Tradition.

Religious pluralism was accepted as a working basis for American religious expression, and “voluntaryism” (the principle that both church membership and church support rest upon the uncoerced choice of the individual) was agreed to be a primary quality of religious adherence in America. With this broad basis of agreement as a launching pad, the institute moved into the workshop stage.

Most participants were delighted that the honeymoon period of the conference was short and that highly charged issues were brought out into the open. Ground rules preclude quotation in the absence of the explicit permission of those speaking. It may be instructive, however, to note some of the “lines of fracture” which the sessions traced.

With respect to the bearing of religion upon American voting behavior, detailed studies indicate that religious loyalties exert a profound influence upon voting. This factor was consciously tested in the national elections of 1960. It seems that for several decades presidential elections will reckon heavily with the factor of the religious affiliation ...

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