The United States has never had an officially established church. Since the time of the first British colonists, it has instead developed a strong civil religion that melds national symbols to symbols of God. In a deft exploration of American civil religious symbols ranging from the Liberty Bell and Vietnam Memorial to Mount Rushmore and Disney World, Peter Gardella explains how the places, objects, and symbols that Americans hold sacred came into being and how they have changed over time. In addition to examining revered historical sites and structures, he analyzes such sacred texts as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, the Kennedy Inaugural, and the speeches of Martin Luther King, and shows how five patriotic songs-"The Star-Spangled Banner," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" "America the Beautiful," "God Bless America," and "This Land Is Your Land"-have been elevated into hymns.
Arguing that certain values-personal freedom, political democracy, world peace, and cultural tolerance-have held American civil religion together, this book chronicles the numerous forms those values have taken, from Jamestown and Plymouth to the September 11, 2001, Memorial in New York.