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God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law Hardcover – May 30, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this intelligent and forcefully argued book, Hamilton, a self-professed former "Polyanna" when it comes to religion, explores the thorny conflicts between religion and society, detailing how some religious groups and institutions misuse laws intended to protect religious freedoms to justify child abuse, employment discrimination and other ills. She is vocal in her criticism of efforts to exempt religious groups from the laws secular organizations must abide by, saving particular disdain for deal-making lawmakers, whom she compares to "hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys." Hamilton dedicates about half of the book to examining six broad areas where religious groups enjoy special treatment-from marriage laws to preferential treatment within prisons to land use and local zoning ordinances. Passionately argued throughout, the book seems almost like Hamilton's atonement for her previous stance on these issues. (She quotes herself in the opening as having written 11 years ago that "the exercise of religion should trump most governmental regulation.") Certainly of interest to those in the judicial and legislative realms, Hamilton has written this book for the average reader, though some may be confused by the myriad legal precedents and her descriptions of legislative maneuvering.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The First Amendment is stirring second thoughts among scholars wary of the social and legal consequences of religious liberty. Hamilton investigates numerous contentious religious issues-from headline cases in which Catholic clergy have sought clerical immunity for alleged acts of child abuse to obscure episodes in which Sikh parents have protested against school policies preventing sons from carrying ceremonial knives. But all of the various episodes Hamilton chronicles ultimately underscore one simple thesis: Americans' right to believe whatever religious doctrines they choose deserves absolute protection; Americans' right to act on religious belief should end whenever such actions harm or endanger others. It will disturb some readers that Hamilton invokes her largely negative view of American religionists as justification for giving secular politicians expansive powers to curb religious excesses, but as religious belief continues to diversify in multicultural America, the urgency of the issues here raised guarantees Hamilton many interested readers. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 428 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st edition (May 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521853044
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521853040
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,143,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

MARCI A. HAMILTON is one of the United States' leading constitutional law scholars, specializing in church/state issues. She is the author of JUSTICE DENIED: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge 2008, 2012) and GOD VS. THE GAVEL: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge 2005, 2007).

Hamilton is regularly cited in The New York Times, The Associated Press, MSNBC, and other news outlets; she is a columnist for The Huffington Post and Her website is

Hamilton is frequently asked to advise Congress and state legislatures on the constitutionality of pending legislation and to consult in cases involving important constitutional issues. She is the First Amendment and constitutional law advisor for victims in many clergy abuse cases involving many religious institutions, including the federal bankruptcies filed by the Portland Archdiocese, Spokane Diocese, and San Diego Diocese. She was also lead counsel for the City of Boerne, Texas, in Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997), before the Supreme Court in its seminal federalism and church/state case holding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act unconstitutional.

A former clerk for Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Hamilton holds the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. She lives in Philadelphia and New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 61 people found the following review helpful By M. L Lamendola VINE VOICE on July 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When you think of people who break the law and get by with it, what kind of person comes to mind? A rogue bureaucrat who can arrange an audit of anyone who opposes him? A cop on the take, who can hide some evidence and manufacture the rest? A celebrity who can buy a trial, and later write a book about it?

If so, expand your thinking a bit. The ability to break the law goes beyond individuals whom we easily recognize as seedy, scheming characters. Some people use our most cherished institutions as vehicles for such criminal activities as child abuse, murder, and theft. Those seem like strong words at first blush, but case histories show those claims are accurate.

And the courts routinely aid and abet these crimes by providing exceptional protection to those who commit them. Thanks to Constitution-violating court decisions, criminals who hide behind the mantle of religion remain free to strike again and again. At the heart of this maelstrom of magisterial malfeasance, we find the issue of church vs. state. Hamilton looks at this issue closely, and lays to rest the myths upon which courts justify their complicity with criminals who happen to represent religious organizations. Replace the myths with truths, and the entire house of cards tumbles.

The courts, in their support of religious offenders, are doing religious organizations no favor. Just look at what has happened to the Catholic church. The Catholic church continues to harbor pedophile priests, and the courts help them do it. This has diminished the church to most Catholics--many of whom are becoming ex-Catholics. Consequently, many Catholic schools are closing their doors and the treasuries of Catholic congregations are on life support.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By VJ on June 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A must-read for lawyers, academics, theologians, and curious human beings alike, God vs. The Gavel competently and thoroughly lends insight to the issue of religion and its relationship to the United States Constitution. Professor Hamilton, through her lively style of writing, argues that religious groups should not receive heightened constitutional protection when their actions harm others. While this theory is a seemingly simple and practical one, Hamilton successfully draws her readers into an intricate -- indeed intriguing -- web of religion, law, and their interplay in contemporary society. Easy to understand yet sophisticated in scope, Hamilton's work is a truly impressive accomplishment, and one that is sure to draw attention around the country and across the globe.
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31 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Gloria Sosnoski on June 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
At a time when the wise and discerning lines between church and state have become dangeroulsy distorted and self-serving we need books like Marci Hamilton's "God vs. the Gavel" not only to clarify the the laws that govern organized religion but also to state unequivically that no religion is above the law and no clergy member is exempt from the legal consequences of criminal activity. When religion becomes a vehicle to hate and kill and abuse one another in the name of our God, all we have is the holy law of the land to protect us from such tyranny. Every priest, clergy member, theologian, and religious believer needs to read this book to see more clearly how close we are to sanctioning organized crimes within religious organizatios. Thank God Marci Hamilton stepped forward in her legal profession to say loud and clear "Enough!"
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Bunty on June 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Nearly every day we hear stories about conflicts between religious believers and the judicial and political branches of government. Professor Hamilton explains why everyone must be accountable to the rule of law in a way that any reader can understand.

You don't have to be a lawyer or scholar to enjoy this book - you just have to be an interested citizen. This is a "must read" no matter what your position is when you crack the spine. The book documents a variety of historical clashes between religion and the law, as well as timely issues such as the marriage debate, child abuse, and religion's place in the public square. After reading this well-researched book, you would be hard pressed not to agree with Professor Hamilton's conclusion: religion is the inspiration for many good things in our society, but it cannot be used as a shield for actions that harm others.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Harold McFarland HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on June 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It would be hard to conceive of anyone who would argue that religion has not brought tremendous good to the world. Unfortunately, these same people can quite easily turn to one of the many incidents of our time where religion has also been used to harm others.

In her book God vs. The Gavel author Marci Hamilton argues that the church, while being allowed to perform their purpose and service in the world, should also be subject to the rule of law that they should cause no harm. The author takes a well-argued position that there should be some limit on religious freedom when it harms others. Examples include the child who can easily be treated for a life-threatening illness but is not due to the religious beliefs of the parents, or the family that moves into a quiet residential neighborhood but then finds a church starting in the house next door followed by houses demolished to make a large parking lot, etc. Some of the issues are not as far reaching as these and include such matters as allowing a beard to military personnel whose religion specifies it, or kosher food for a Jewish inmate in a prison. There are many, many of these places where the interests of the state and the church intersect.

This book is a call to all of us, including religious practitioners, to practice our religion as we will as long as it harms nobody else. The author's arguments are firmly grounded in the First Amendment and the intent of its framers. Brilliantly argued, although many will have difficulty with the idea of accountability to anyone other than the local church, God vs. The Gavel is recommended reading.
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