Godless Citizens in a Godly Republic: Atheists in American Public Life

Isaac Kramnick (Author) R Laurence Moore (Author)


God occupies our nation's consciousness, even defining to many what it means to be American. Nonbelievers have often had second-class legal status and have had to fight for their rights as citizens.

As R. Laurence Moore and Isaac Kramnick demonstrate in their sharp and convincing work, avowed atheists were derided since the founding of the nation. Even Thomas Paine fell into disfavor and his role as a patriot forgotten. Popular Republican Robert Ingersoll could not be elected in the nineteenth century due to his atheism, and the suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton was shunned when she questioned biblical precepts about women's roles.

Moore and Kramnick lay out this fascinating history and the legal cases that have questioned religious supremacy. It took until 1961 for the Supreme Court to ban religious tests for state officials, despite Article 6 of the Constitution. Still, every one of the fifty states continues to have God in its constitution. The authors discuss these cases and more current ones, such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which address whether personal religious beliefs supersede secular ones.

In Godless Citizens in a Godly Republic, the authors also explore the dramatic rise of an "atheist awakening" and the role of organizations intent on holding the country to the secular principles it was founded upon.

Product Details

W. W. Norton & Company
Publish Date
August 21, 2018
5.4 X 0.9 X 8.4 inches | 0.8 pounds
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About the Author

Isaac Kramnick is professor emeritus of government at Cornell University.
R. Laurence Moore is professor emeritus of history and American studies at Cornell University


An illuminating read on an increasingly important aspect of American history and politics. With more Americans eschewing religion, such a book is both timely and warranted.--Phil Zuckerman, author of Living the Secular Life
R. Laurence Moore and Isaac Kramnick trace the often-shocking history of atheism in America. In a nation dedicated to the separation of church and state, we have seen furious battles over compulsory school prayer, discrimination against nonbelievers, and continuing efforts to declare this to be 'a Christian nation.' Moore and Kramnick bring to life a continuing struggle to make this nation what the Founders intended it to be.--Geoffrey R. Stone, author of Sex and the Constitution
A thorough and useful history of the legal and political status of atheists in America.--Casey Cep
This compact and thorough work is a perfect introduction to atheism in America.
An impassioned review of the demands of a little-considered minority.
This accessible and sincere book usefully makes explicit often-unspoken currents in American political life.
This work provides important historical insights into a contentious contemporary issue. Highly recommended for readers interested in history, law, and political science, as well as those seeking positive approaches to expanding religious liberty.
Godless Citizens in a Godly Republic provides exactly what we need more of from historians but so rarely get: accessible, well-written prose combined with scholarly discipline in the service of a contemporary issue badly in need of light rather than heat.--Eric Alterman, author of Inequality and One City