Habits on Defense

Kathleen Holscher

in Religious Lessons

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199781737
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979653 | DOI:
Habits on Defense

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This chapter examines religious garb (religious clothing) within public classrooms, as it became a controversial issue among the nation’s public and its judicial system in the context of sister-taught schooling litigation. The chapter also explores the difficulties that attorneys like George Reed at the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) faced as they tried to defend the right of sisters to teach publicly in their Catholic habits. While POAU was adamant about preserving the distinctive relationship between the Protestant tradition and the First Amendment, Catholic legal experts—most famously John Courtney Murray—struggled to find a theologically sound basis for asserting a similar relationship on the part of the Catholic Church. The failure of the NCWC to do so on behalf of sisters left its attorneys little choice but to advise those women to remove their habits or retreat from public employment altogether. In its policy of avoiding litigation at all costs, the NCWC found itself guiding Catholic dioceses and religious orders into compliance with a de facto model of church–state separation stronger, and more akin to secularism, even than many American courts demanded.

Keywords: National Catholic Welfare Conference; church–state separation; religious garb; religious clothing; Catholic habit; First Amendment; secularism; John Courtney Murray; Catholic Church

Chapter.  14681 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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