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God on Trial: Dispatches from America's Religious Battlefields Hardcover – May 17, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Despite Irons's title, Mike Newdow, who challenged the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, says, "People... think this is against God. And it's not.... It's those who believe in equality versus those who don't." But his opponents, and the other defendants in the seven cases concerning the separation of church and state that civil liberties lawyer Irons relates, clearly see it differently. As one of Newdow's opponents says, if "the majority of folks want it, I don't think the minority should be able to say, 'Well, no, you can't have it.' " Irons (A People's History of the Supreme Court) provides exciting blow-by-blow accounts of the legal battles, ranging from two challenges to displays of the 10 Commandments in Kentucky and Texas to the fight over a cross on Mount Soleded in San Diego—a theater of the absurd lasting 17 years and counting. Irons ends each chapter with monologues by a participant on each side. These are sometimes rambling and overlong, but reveal sometimes with surprising power, the personalities and motivations of the opponents. Irons's accounts clarify the legal issues in these important cases as well as what one federal judge called the Supreme Court's "utterly standardless" decisions, failing to provide clear boundaries for the role of religion in the public square. (May 21)
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Review

“Peter Irons is that rare legal scholar who, with impeccable clarity, translates the most important constitutional issues of our time into human terms.”
—Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States

“Finally, a book on the struggle for religious freedom that goes beyond the hype and the headlines . . . This is a must-read book.”
—Jay Sekulow, chief council, American Center for Law & Justice --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1st edition (May 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038510
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,805,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By William E. Adams on June 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Irons, while clearly a member of the separationist camp in the matter of religious expressions involving government support, is quite fair to the opposition. They are profiled as often as the plaintiffs in his descriptions of five recent cases, and treated respectfully. If you have ever wondered "How does a high school football pre-game prayer in small-town Texas wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court?" this is the book that tells you. Other cases include postings of the Ten Commandments, erections of Christian crosses on city lands, the words "under God" as part of the Pledge of Allegiance, and the endorsement of "Intelligent Design" in biology classes at the Dover, Pa. high school. I chose this from my public library shelf as a "back-up" book in case the one I really wanted to read turned out to be too dull. Which it did. After I started reading this, I found it to be fascinating. We "separationists" have not been victorious in all of the fights mentioned above, and some of them are still in the process. No matter which side you think you are on, however, this volume will be useful to you.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Bert Krages on June 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is about recent cases involving the establishment clause of the First Amendment which is the legal basis requiring separation between church and state. My first serious introduction to establishment clause cases came in 1985 during my second year of law school when I wrote a comment article about Wallace v. Jaffree (the moment of silence case) for the law review competition. The contentious nature of establishment clause cases was made clear when about a dozen classmates told me I would never make law review because of my politically-incorrect position (the law school was on a very liberal campus where the anti-military students went about dressed in surplus combat fatigues--"Che le vie"). This book begins with an excellent overview of the cultural, legal, and political history of the relationship between church and government, and then moves on to chapters that focus on recent establishment clause cases. A major strength of the book is its descriptions of the parties and the processes by which the cases make their way through the judicial system. Most of the chapters end with interview-based biographical content about some of the people involved in the cases, which sheds an interesting light on the backgrounds, beliefs, and motives of the kinds of people who raise and defend against charges that certain practices cause too much entanglement between government and religion. The author should be commended for structuring the book so that it brings forth the context and issues in a way that is genuinely interesting and concurrently provides material for forming your own opinions. The style is very readable and devoid of pretentious legal or scholarly jargon. For example, the word "tripartite" is never used when discussing the "Lemon test.Read more ›
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Peter Irons has more than proven himself as an exciting and knowledged writer on the Supreme Court. His book "People's History of the Supreme Court" was a very entertaining and astute (albeit politically slanted) read.

Where that book was an encyclopedic view of the entire history of the Supreme Court, this book is a very microscopic view at six cases revolving around a single clause of the First Amendment. This book focuses recent challenges to the Establishment Clause - all involving gorups that challenged either the constitutionality of religious displays on public lands (Ten Commandments in front of court houses, a Cross in a public park), or religious materials on public property (being forced to say the Pledge - "under god" - in a public school, Intelligent Design being mentioned in a public school biology class).

Many of these cases, of course, are very new and fresh to most of our memories. A most exciting chapter was on the Newdow case, where a resident of Oak Grove, California decided to argue his own case all the way to the supreme court that mandating recitation of the Pledge to the flag (without deleting the two religious words) was unconstitutional in a public school. There is also a chapter on two very similar, yet different, cases involving challenges to the Ten Commandments being posted outside of a city courthouse. (Apparently, the US derives its laws from the Ten commandments, even though the first commandment, commanding us to worship no false idols, is DIRECTLY countered by the first amendment of our own non-deity-mentioning constitution. Hiow about that?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By B. Centre on December 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In addition to detailed coverage of six important Establishment Clause legal cases from their genesis to conclusion (albeit, some still undecided) Irons provides in-depth insight into the personalities behind the Religious Right and the opposing "Separationists"; their personal histories, thought processes, goals, and the organizations that stand behind their ideology.

This is must read for anyone, theist or atheist, who respects the vision of our Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and cherishes the freedoms that the 1st Amendment's religion Establishment Clause was meant to preserve for non-believers as well as believers.

Whether you're an activist in the fight against theocracy, or a student of the "culture war" in which we are all either spectators or avid warriors, this book is THE gold standard for understanding where we've been, where we are going, and what's driving this most divisive and important issue of our time.

Without excessive use of legalese, it's easy for the layman to understand. Irons' writing style and expert analysis makes this both an entertaining and educational experience.
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