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.
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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 ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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