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Originally composed as a conference paper in 1966 and first published in 1968, the essay "Civil Religion in America" by Robert Bellah attempts to explain the paradoxical relationship of the church-state separation enshrined in the US Constitution with the abnormal (by developed world standards) presence of religion in American civic and political discourse.
Bellah argues that this apparent contradiction is resolved by the existence of a "civic" religion, bearing a close relationship to the Deism of the Founding Fathers, that accepts the existence of some sort of divine authority as grounds for morality and codes of civic conduct without mandating belief in any one specific religious system. He analyzes political speeches, starting with those of John F. Kennedy, as well as the moral dilemmas posed by the Civil War, to suggest that this "civic religion", independent of politicians' personal denominational affiliations, informs much of American political discourse.
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