22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2006
Feldman's book is an intelligently written discussion of both the history of church-state law in the U.S. and the current debates that engage our society. Feldman works his way from the founding to the latest Supreme Court decisions of the last 15 years which have reshaped the interpretation of the Establishment Clause; the result is a fascinating overview of the legal and cultural evolution of America's ideas about church and state.
The great strength of this book is its focus on ideas and their development. Feldman does an excellent job laying out the reasoning used by various sides of the church-state debates over the last 200 years; he also frequently critiques these historical arguments, not as a partisan, but as more of a guide to these debates.
There are two larger issues that were problematic for me in this book:
First, I think Feldman's discussion of the church-state arguments made by the framers of the Constitution is too cursory and somewhat oversimplified. The Founding-era debates were arguably the most sophisticated and philosophically complex of all in American church-state history, and a bulkier, more rigorous chapter would have been better. After having read such great historical studies on this era as "The Sacred Fire of Liberty," "Original Meanings," and "The Founding Fathers and The Place of Religion in America," I was disappointed in this part of Feldman's book.
Second, I think Feldman overemphasizes the partisan divide over church and state in our contemporary culture. This sentence captures Feldman's outlook:
"...no single, unified theory or logical reason can explain the arrangements we now have. They are the product of an ongoing battle. The field has changed, some objectives have been captured and others lost, and disorder reigns."
Probably only the most active players and partisans would view the current status as an 'ongoing battle' where 'some objectives have been captured.' Most reasonable Americans are likely to find many of the recent Supreme Court decisions relying on Justice O'Connor's 'endorsement test' a fair compromise in tune with the deeper principle motivating the First Amendment. At the very least, I doubt that most Americans fall neatly into either of the two warring camps Feldman describes, although there are activist groups that certainly do fit.
This is a great book - one of best books on the subject I have read covering the specific legal and cultural arguments over all of American history and not just a specific era. I highly recommend it.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2006
While I find Mr. Feldman solution to the Church-State problem overly simplistic and probably unworkable, I found the book in general to be very useful. It helps one to understand the series of events that have brought the United States to today's church/state quagmire. The history leading up to a situation is always useful in understanding that situation (and possibly finding solutions and compromises to solve problems.)
The majority of Mr. Feldman's book deals with the history of how we arrived at where we are today. It is readable, not overly verbose and easy to follow and understand. Mr. Feldman has written with little or no editorial content in describing the history of the church/state problem. He is to be congratulated for this effort and his book read in the context of the clear concise history he presents.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2006
If the church - state debate interests you, you owe it to yourself to get informed. This book does an excellent job of blowing up all the talking points, from both sides of the political spectrum and helps the reader understand what happened and see both sides of this fascinating issue. Here's a list of interesting, historical observations which vary from the typical left and right talking points.
The nation was NOT founded by Christians. Most of the founders were deists who believed in a creator, but were NOT traditional christians.
Those who wrote the constitution did not think christian symbols, prayer in public ceremonies or other chrsitian trappings "established" religion.
Bible reading was prominent in public schools all the way into the middle of the 20th century and was viewed as a way of establishing public morality. It was NOT viewed as establishing religion.
The judges who created a more severe interpretation of the establishment clause were influenced by the events of World War II, where millions were killed on the basis of their religion alone. The idea that they might have been power hungry, liberal and secular judges is not strongly supported by the facts. Justice Black who wrote the first opinion in 1947 that called for a "high wall of separation" was a former klansman and was concerned about one religion holding sway, not with building a secular country.
The establishment clause was originally applied only to federal matters.
There are many more fascinating historical facts that will help inform and broaden your grasp of this issue.
I highly recommend this book.
18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2005
Unlike the rest of the "reviewers", I think that this book:"Divided by God:America's Church-State Problem" addresses a very real problem within the culture of the United States. WE THE PEOPLE, who are Christians, regardless of theological stripe, want control of the nation and each other.
Feldman addresses the history of the problem extremely accurately. His recounting of that history may be a little dry but his conclusions are on target, in my humble opinion.
This is a book written for this time, for unlike any time previous to this, we are in national crisis attempting to determine who shall rule the "ways and means of our country". This book, and I would recommend its inclusion as a textbook in college religion courses or sociology/anthropology courses, is an avenue of addressing the issues ar large within our culture.
Read this book! This book is an indepth study of the history of the difficulties of our "balanced" church-state relationship. This book makes perfect sense in the context of our confused times.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2007
This book does an absolutely fantastic job of laying out an objective history of church-state issues in America. The author places a particular emphasis on the interplay between church and education. Considering the large role government plays in American education this is perhaps logical. If the book had stopped at the history lesson I would have given it five stars. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the pundit media culture in which we live, the author felt compelled to throw in some advocation at the end of the book.
I braced myself for the conlusion... Would I love it? Would I hate it and shout out loud at my book as though the author could actually hear my disgust? Unfortunately neither. The conclusion is undeveloped, sophomoric, and perhaps worst of all... BORING! I found myself not caring at all about what this guy had to say. I actually had trouble finishing the book after absolutely loving the first 95% of it.
So basically I loved the history (which is almost all of the book) but hated the conclusion.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2005
The author first gives a very detailed history of the church-state relationship in this country, which helps him support his thesis that the religious clauses to the first amendment should only be used to prevent financial entanglement, as opposed to symbolic (ie manger scene in front of city hall).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2012
Now at Harvard Law, at the time he wrote this book Feldman taught law at New York University. He has emerged as one of the nation's leading experts on the relationship of church and state. He argues that the Founding Fathers, and the United States Constitution they left us, never intended to separate religion and politics or even religion and state via an impermeable "wall of separation." Rather, they intended what they said in the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Feldman believes we need to provide even more freedom for public religious expression--despite the wishes of "legal secularists,"--people who want to fully privatize religion via the law, and with more religious diversity than desired by "values evangelicals"--those who want to legalize their particular view of public morality. Then, Feldman states we should vigorously maintain a financial wall of separation--absolutely no tax generated government funds for any purpose whatsoever.
This is an interesting book offering a different, creative argument. I liked the book and the argument.
As to Feldman's solution? God be with you in making it happen.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2010
Divided by God: America's Church State Problem and What we Should Do About It by Noah Feldman.
The author writes about all the church/state issues since the beginning of our country as well as the issues confronting us today and how to deal with them.
One such early story regarded how many jurisdictions would have a church tax. The government would collect taxes and then give to the denomination of the taxpayer's choice. It was believed churches would die if they did not received tax money and it was further believed churches were important to society as they were the only institution providing moral authority, which guided civilization.
There was also some discussion in the early days that the Constitutional Amendment on freedom of religion only applied to the federal government and no necessarily to state governments.
Many religious people today talk about the Christian foundation upon which this country was formed, yet Feldman makes mention of the fact Jefferson rejected the issue of a personal God. Madison did not feel the government should pay salaries for government chaplains. Mail service was delivered on Sundays up until 1912.
The religious right seems to have been around (albeit in a different name) since the beginning. There was an attempt in the mid l800's to have a Constitutional Amendment, which would recognize the Christian God and the Bible as the foundation for this country. Fortunately and obviously it did not pass.
I had always wanted to know the exact story of how the Mormons left the issue of bigamy and why the U. S. Court made any ruling on the issue. As you probably know, the Mormons went cross-country escaping states, which would not allow them to practice this part of their religion. They decided to settle in a territory of Utah, which had no prohibition for this practice. Then the Congress passed a law saying bigamy would be outlawed in the territories. The Mormons took the issue to court. The Supreme Court ruled though this was an infringement upon their religious right, they felt that allowing this practice would create a domino affect on other religious practices. What if a religion wanted to burn people at the stake, for instance? When the Supreme Court ruled against them, their leader had a new revelation saying that bigamy would no longer be allowed as an official church practice.
Another interesting story was when local jurisdictions started to mandate children saying the Pledge of Allegiance, many Jehovah Witnesses protested. They took their case to the Supreme Court and lost. Then as FDR started appointing new people to the Court, the JW's decided to try again and the Court reversed itself.
He also talks about current day issues and the conflict between the religious right and people on the other side. He fears a real battle ahead unless both sides can find common ground.
He talks about the issue of Christmas. He feels it is a cultural activity for the vast majority of US citizens, therefore people who don't celebrate Christmas should "just get used to it". I would say there is a difference between public and private sector. The private sector can do whatever it wants, but the public sector should not celebrate any religious holiday. (I am such a strong advocate for church separation to think that government offices should be open on Dec 25).
He talks about "under God" issue in the Pledge. He mentions the JW issue of not wanting to say the Pledge. Their argument was not that everyone should refrain only they should be allowed to. He feels that should be the compromise for those who do not want the word God in the Pledge.
He feels the same as I do that there is a different between church and state, which must always be separate and religion and politics, which cannot be separated. Religious people (on both right and left) have a constitutional right and a religious mandate to try to change laws as they feel is best.
The author is a former clerk for the U. S. Supreme Court and now law professor. The book sometimes is written for attorneys and therefore at times difficult for a layperson like me to gasp all the aspects of his writing. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating book to read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Did you know the Constitution never mentions God, and it explicitly stops Congress from "establishing" a religion? Yet, the official motto of our country is "In God We Trust." Did you know that President John Adams made Thanksgiving a day of fasting and mortification? Save for perhaps the pain Detroit Lions' fans always seem to endure on the third Thursday in November, modern Thanksgivings are a far cry from Adams' ideal. Clearly, times have changed but God and religion, as Feldman lays out, are very much part of our heritage. His brilliant book, Divided by God, begs the question: Do Americans truly want resolution on the issue of separation. Like Judge Noah Sweat's position on whiskey, we seem to enjoy our "if when you say" position that goes something like this: If when you say religion, you mean the right to free exercise of religion, Parochial Schools, religious organizations that provide tender care for our little children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged, and infirm, then we are for it. But, if when you say relgion, you mean those organizations that would impose their views upon others, who would exclude you from their organizations, their country clubs, their conversations, their private rituals, then we are against it. Or to put it another way, if the winless Detroit Lions ever expect to win a game, look for their fans to be singing Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" next Sunday. Like the Establishment Clause, it can't hurt.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2006
What is it anyways? I think the entire premise of this book is based on the history of the concept of secularism and all the definitions associated with it. Because of his legal background, Feldman draws together the cases that have helped shape America's face with the history behind the cases. It is very interesting to see how America's idea of secularism has changed and why. This book is well complimented by Stark and Finke's "Acts of Faith" and "Habits of the Heart" by Bella et all.