Majoritarianism and Religion

  • Carol Barner-Barry


The core principle of democracy is that the majority shall rule. This inexorably means that some people in a democratic polity will be forced to adhere to laws with which they disagree. Because the Founding Fathers clearly saw the potential for harm in this arrangement, they provided safeguards against a tyrannical majority. Among these safeguards is the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These amendments are crafted to protect minorities in certain key areas of life where it was thought that special protections against majority tyranny were particularly significant (Karst, 1992, 506). One of these areas was religion and its importance is symbolically emphasized by the fact that constitutional protections both for religious freedom and against religious domination constitute the first two clauses of the First Amendment. This reflected not just abstract theory but the experience of those who first came from Europe and settled the colonies that would eventually become the United States. Many of them were fleeing countries in which there were established religions and many of the colonists who had embraced religions that were not established were forced to hide their religious convictions and practices from the authorities.


Religious Tradition Democratic Government Religious Freedom Democratic Polity Catholic Bishop 
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© Carol Barner-Barry 2005

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  • Carol Barner-Barry

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