An Alabama proposal to install the Ten Commandments in public classrooms in the state has generated controversy, with opponents predictably accusing proponents of trying to impose a theocracy on Alabama’s children. In response, a popular cartoon circulating on social media perfectly crystalizes the new reality: Moses has brought the tablets of divine law to a contemporary American classroom, only to be told by the teacher, “Sorry, we don’t permit religion in schools.” This, even as the classroom’s walls are festooned with various “Pride Progress,” Black Lives Matter, and transgender flags and symbols.

It is now clear that the public square wasn’t naked, and nor could it ever be. Written in 1984, amid the first great wave of the “culture wars,” Richard John Neuhaus’s book The Naked Public Square articulated a pervasive anxiety among traditional Christians over what they perceived to be a decidedly secularist tilt of elite culture. Secular elites, even if only a minority at the time, were institutionally fortified through control of the judicial branch and the bureaucracy, both of which advanced an increasingly “separationist” reading of the First Amendment. Even as conservatives were winning elections, they believed this small elite was sowing the seeds of what would someday be a deeply secularist nation. 

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