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Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church/State Wars Paperback – June 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Boston University law professor Wexler is also a published humorist. This felicitous combination of talents is put to good use as he visits the towns and cities where the always controversial cases concerning separation of church and state arise. WexlerÖs lucid explications of difficult constitutional concepts and the vagaries of Supreme Court rulings are superb, providing readers a deeper understanding of the First Amendment and Supreme Court jurisprudence. But thatÖs only half the story. Wexler is laugh-out-loud funny as he narrates his odyssey through battleground sites from rural Wisconsin through Texas to the chambers of the U.S. Senate. Along the way he happily and with a usually generous spirit skewers Supreme Court justices, legislators, educators, law school professors and pretty much anyone else, including himself, who has ever taken a position on the enduring American controversies surrounding prayer in schools, religious displays on public property, or the teaching of evolution. This is a rare treat, a combination of thoughtful analysis and quirky humor that illuminates an issue that rarely elicits a laugh—and that is central to the American body politic. (June)
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I've read a lot of entertaining travelogues and informative studies of Supreme Court cases, but never at the same time. Think Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation meets Peter Irons' The Courage of Their Convictions. Thank God for Holy Hullabaloos.—Pamela Karlan, founding director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford University

"Religion and politics are the two things we are not supposed to talk about. Jay Wexler does—with deadpan humor. We need to tone down the anger over these issues, and he shows the way."—Alan Wolfe, author of Does American Democracy Still Work?

"The sharpest, the most insightful, the most side-splittingly funny book on law since—Supreme Courtship!" —Christopher Buckley, author of Supreme Courtship and Thank You For Smoking

"A fascinating and frequently funny journey through many of the sites of the greatest church and state squabbles in modern American history."—Barry Lynn, author of Piety & Politics

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 251 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; Original edition (June 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807000442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807000441
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,132,282 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jay Wexler is a professor at the Boston University School of Law, where he has taught since 2001. Prior to teaching, Wexler studied religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School and law at Stanford Law School. After law school, he worked as a clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the U.S. Supreme Court and then as a lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. He has published nearly two dozen academic articles, essays, and reviews, as well as over forty short stories and humor pieces in places like the Boston Globe, Spy, Mental Floss, Salon, Spy, and McSweeney's. His website is, and he tweets @SCOTUSHUMOR.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sean Hecker on May 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
Over a decade ago, I was fortunate enough to take constitutional law from two legal titans, Gerald Gunther and Kathleen Sullivan (who richly deserves her spot on many shortlists for a SCT appointment). Jay Wexler was a classmate then and he remains a good friend today. So discount this review all you want. But I learned as much First Amendment law from reading Holy Hullabaloos as I did in law school from the best the legal academy has to offer. And, better yet, I busted out in laughter every few pages. What a feat! Reading Holy Hullabaloos is like exercising on a treadmill while watching a great sitcom -- you don't even notice that you have bettered yourself for taking it on.

Wexler, whose hilarious short stories have been published everywhere from McSweeneys to Monkeybicycle, is a brilliant, insightful and self-effacing writer who teaches without preaching. He may well convince you of his view of the proper interpretation and scope of the religion clauses. But I doubt that's his principal aim. By delving deeper into the facts of these cases and the religious and cultural communities in which they arose, Wexler forces you to challenge your own assumptions about the proper role of religion and government in our society. That, and he makes you laugh. But regardless of his intent, you won't forget these travel stories or the cases he recounts in the process.

So read Holy Hullabaloos. You really won't regret it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. McCloskey on July 1, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm intimidated by the other two reviews, as they are very well-written. I went to BU Law, where Prof. Wexler teaches, and in fact I work there now. But I never took any of his classes (sorry!) so you don't really have to discount this review.

Holy Hullabaloos really does manage to combine humor with wonderfully clear analyses of some Really Important Supreme Court cases. In law school, I took no more con law than was required, so I really don't have much of a background in the area, but I came away from reading the book feeling very well-informed.

Wexler discusses these cases in a really thought-provoking way. To echo another review, I found his point about teaching about religion in schools to be a really good one. The book was much more thoughtful than I expected. That is, it wasn't just a series of jokes about law and religion cases. Rather, Wexler combines legal analysis and humor to both educate the reader and to make this larger point about the way we treat and think about religion. Having gone to Catholic school myself, but one where we actually did have a world religions class at some point and where dissent was tolerated, if not encouraged, the idea that we need to be respectful of others' religious beliefs, or lack thereof, really resonated with me.

Also, I really did laugh out loud. Once on the train. It was very embarrassing.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Larissa E. Murphy on June 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
As the saying goes, man should see neither law nor sausage made. And if civil laws are the sausage, then judge-made law must be that offal that's left behind. So, congratulations to Jay Wexler for making something tasty out of it. Beware all ye academics, this book is not for you. It is far too clear and well reasoned for the purists. "Where are the footnotes?" you will ask.

Wexler's writing style is accessible and uproariously funny, but he does not sacrifice the complexity of what he is writing about. He manages to clearly explain a number of Supreme Court decisions that follow no logical progression, violate rules that the justices themselves created, and basically make a huge sticky mess out of both the Establishment and Free Exercise clause.

The best part of the book is actually the sub-text and here is where Wexler's evil genius truly shows. This is not, in fact, a book about the First Amendment. It is a lesson in religious tolerance, one that needs teaching, but rarely gets brought into the classroom. As Wexler makes clear, the best way to respect our First Amendment freedoms is not to let the Supreme Court anywhere near them. If Americans don't bring the crazy cases, then the Court can't mess them up. A simple, yet diabolical plan.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Aaron A on July 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
Is it possible to learn and laugh at the same time? Clearly Jay Wexler has answered that question with a resounding - YES. Holy Hullabaloos is an uproarious adventure through the questions and answers that typically feel too stodgy and convoluted to ponder. While reading this book, it feels as if you are riding shotgun along with Jay on his wild and wacky journey.

Disclosure: I am a former student in Jay's Law and Religion seminar at BU Law and constantly recommend his class and writings (and paintings) to anyone with a sense of humor and a bit of intellectual curiosity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Conner VINE VOICE on May 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
This funny little book is a great overview of contemporary issues in church-state law. Wexler is clear about his biases as a law professor who was raised Jewish, admired some Eastern religions while in college, but has ultimately settled quite comfortably into an atheist life. In this book, he identifies a variety of concerns, from school vouchers to the Senate chaplain to prayer before football games, and each chapter weaves a brief travelogue into his academic discussion of the topics. I didn't find the personal travel observations to be all that enlightening or funny (except for the tour through the creation museum), but they didn't detract from the rest of the work, and they give Wexler a nice hook to sell the book as a whole. The book as a whole, by the way, is very good, with biased but fair and reasonable observations and accurate summaries of different cases that really help explain his points.

I'm a lawyer, and a Christian, and I get in more than my share of frustrating conversations with people who want me to confirm that the Supreme Court has taken prayer out of schools - if I had the guts, I would refuse to have those conversations unless those people could promise me they had read this book. It's that accessible and it's that accurate.
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