This article examines how religious minorities (specifically, marginalized Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims) have participated in government-affiliated service programs as part of attempts to assert claims to faith in a common God, observance of common ethics, and belonging in a common body politic. Historians have described World War II as—thanks to the interreligious military—a time of enshrining “Judeo-Christian” narratives in culture, legislation, and politics, and of allowing Jews greater access to these arenas than they had experienced previously. While military service is also important here, my primary subject is the service religious groups initially offered as a compliment to military activity but then expanded and generalized—often under government commission—into community care work that relieved the state of the economic burden of supplying certain citizenship benefits or that gave international endeavors a friendlier face. Marginalized white Protestants were the first to offer such services, but other minoritized religious groups followed their example, patriotically echoing military themes throughout the twentieth century when creating “service” organizations and volunteer “corps.” While many contemporary Muslim American leaders believe that community service engagements will help Muslims overcome discrimination by demonstrating that they also make vital contributions to the U.S., several current factors call that possibility into question—not least of which is the history of only partial acceptance earlier religious minorities enjoyed as a result of their efforts.
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