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Church, State, and the Crisis in American Secularism Hardcover – June 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Church, State, and the Crisis in American Secularism is a fascinating and scholarly read, highly recommended." —Midwest Book Review, September 2011

"Bruce Ledewitz has produced a valuable book that raises important questions about the unique relationships between church and state, religion and secularism. Drawing on a rich collection of sources, Church, State, and the Crisis in American Secularism calls on Americans, both secular and religious, to find common ground." —Senator Joe Lieberman

"Ledewitz's incorporation of the intellectual history of and current challenges facing secularism is a valuable and unique contribution to the Establishment Clauses literature." —Duquesne Law Review

"In our often rancorous and genuinely difficult debates over Church and State, we need more people like Bruce Ledewitz who sets out in search for common ground and who tries to persuade rather than shout down those who disagree with them. He writes in the spirit of someone trying to move us forward, and even those who find much to argue with here will come to see Church, State and the Crisis in American Secularism as an excellent starting place for a more productive argument." —E. J. Dionne, author of Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right

"This is an ambitious, rich, and rewarding book. Readers will learn a great deal about the place of religion in contemporary American politics, the U.S. Supreme Court's treatment of 'church-state separation' since the mid-twentieth century, and the complex dance between faith and secularism in America's free religious marketplace. Not all readers will agree with Ledewitz's normative concerns or with his solutions, but considering both is a task well worth undertaking." —Insight Turkey

"A fresh, provocative approach to longstanding problems concerning the relationship of church and state [that] will make people on every side of this debate think more carefully and fruitfully about their positions." —Steven Goldberg, author of Bleached Faith: The Tragic Cost When Religion is Forced Into the Public Square

"Ledewitz's Church, State and the Crisis in American Secularism is an ambitious and timely work.... [His] critique of modern Establishment Clause jurisprudence is compelling and frequently insightful." —Law and Politics Book Review

Ledewitz (Duquesne Univ. School of Law) attempts to solve what he sees as two important and related crises that currently threaten the health and quality of American civic life: a crisis in American secularism referenced in the title (discussed primarily in part 3 of this book) and a crisis surrounding the First Amendment's establishment clause (the
primary focus of parts 1 and 2). The latter crisis is relatively simply described: while the Supreme Court has stated that the establishment clause requires government neutrality toward religion, in reality government consistently favors religion of a monotheistic variety (one could say 'Judeo-Christian') in the public square. The former crisis centers on what Ledewitz describes as a developing trend toward the 'new atheism' within the growing American secular community. Ledewitz worries that the growing acceptance of moral relativism and rejection of clear standards of right and wrong among secular Americans might ultimately result in a society that ignores justice, or perhaps even lacks a clear sense of what is just. Summing Up: Recommended. All undergraduate, graduate, and research collections. --ChoiceM. D. Brewer, University of Maine

From the Inside Flap

There are two church-state crises today. The first is a crisis in interpreting the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Since 1947, the United States Supreme Court has promised government neutrality toward religion. But the public square is not neutral. The national motto is "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance denominates us a nation "under God". The public square is not even neutral among religions. Government displays of the Ten Commandments and other biblical images are common and have been upheld as constitutional.

The second crisis lies in the heart of a rapidly secularizing America. Because prominent atheists identify religion as an enemy, secularists are led into unthinking opposition not only to religious imagery but to all that religion represents, including the objectivity of values. Secularism is thus in danger of descending into relativism.

What is needed to resolve these crises is a vision of the Establishment Clause that the American people can accept—one that honors religion while recognizing America’s religious pluralism. In Church, State, and the Crisis of American Secularism, law professor and secularist Bruce Ledewitz offers that vision.

Ledewitz argues that religious images, including references to God, contain secular meanings. Since the Declaration of Independence, religious imagery has been used to represent the objectivity of values and the universality of human rights. Government today should be permitted to utilize religious imagery to support similar secular ideals.

This tradition is known as higher law. It teaches that there are objective standards of right and wrong, true and false, beautiful and ugly. The higher law tradition is secular and religious.

Ledewitz’s higher law proposal offers a justification of religious imagery in the public square that believers and nonbelievers can both accept. It invites the formation of a new political coalition and an end to the religious culture wars.

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More About the Author

Bruce Ledewitz is Professor of Law at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, where he has taught since 1980. He is a recognized expert in the fields of criminal law and constitutional law. He has been active in public life, serving as Secretary to the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty from 1985-1990. His Platform for Reform of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was recently the subject of a statewide series of debates sponsored by the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters. He has written widely in both specialized legal journals and national media such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune. His latest book, Hallowed Secularism: Theory, Belief, and Practice, was published in March 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan. His earlier book, American Religious Democracy: Coming to Terms with the End of Secular Politics (Praeger 2007), was the subject of debate on the Thom Hartmann radio program and was favorably reviewed in the Journal of Law and Religion. The book has been the subject of academic programs and there have been reviews in various academic outlets. Professor Ledewitz' views on the role of religion in the 2008 Presidential campaign have been published in the Denver Post, Baltimore Sun, Newsday and other newspapers. Professor Ledewitz received a B.S.F.S. degree from Georgetown School of Foreign Service in 1974 and his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1977. He served as Law Clerk to the Honorable Robert Taylor, Federal District Judge, Eastern District of Tennessee, 1977-1979 and as a Assistant Public Defender in Allegheny County from 1979-1980. He is a listed co-author with Harry Jaffa of Original Intent and the Framers of the Constitution: Disputed Question (Regnery Gateway 1994).