on May 22, 2009
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.
on July 1, 2009
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.
on June 27, 2009
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.
on July 1, 2009
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.
on December 11, 2012
The book is about various church-state separation legal cases and he makes them surprisingly interesting and entertaining reading. He traveled to the various places associated with the cases and spoke with people involved.
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.
on August 5, 2012
This was an entertaining book that presents readers with a bird's-eye view of how law and religion have clashed in American jurisprudence. It is not a technical treatment at all, and does a very good job of making the people whose names headed the Supreme Court decisions accessible. The book has the feel of a Travel Channel series and sometimes focuses a little too much on the author's story rather than the stories of the litigants, but it is an easy, enjoyable read that might teach you a little bit about the law along the way.
Holy Hullabaloos is a book on the personal side of the famous church-state court cases. In the book, law professor Jay Wexler tours the country and visits both the people and the places involved in those decisions. My favorite parts of the book were Wexler's visits with a) an Amish man who sued to get out of going to high school and to b) the $27 million creationism museum in Kentucky. I learned a lot about the law and I thought that Wexler's prose was both humorous and interesting.
My only criticism of HH is that the book veers from humorous travelogue to dry discussions of constitutional law. Though Wexler does a decent job of handling these two disparate sides of HH, I still thought the contrast between these two aspects of the book was a bit jarring.
I think that HH is a good book - for the secular audience. Wexler is an atheist, but he tries to be evenhanded in his presentation of the religious issues discussed in HH. Still, I just don't think that Wexler will appeal to religious fundamentalists. If you are not a fundamentalist and you are interested in constitutional law, HH is a great choice.
on February 7, 2010
"You can't tell a book by its cover" is Holy Hullabaloos times 10. Jay Wexler, a law professor with an unusual talent for making the complicated understandable, has taken a loaded topic, separation of church and state, and injected it with wisdom and humor [which explains the otherwise goofy cover]. He traces the history of the First Amendment's meanderings through the various iterations of Supreme Court review. Whether you are one who feels the big court has rendered us a Godless nation or saved us from becoming a theocracy, you'll find Holy Hullabaloos an easy, entertaining and informative read. While Wexler keeps it no secret that he thinks the court has [largely] been good at calling balls and strikes on this hot button issue, you may be surprised where he ends up.
on August 16, 2009
I'll admit it -- I read books very rarely. But I'm interested in church/state issues so I was drawn to this title when I came across it. Jay Wexler is a terrific writer and has presented the issues with two qualities unfortunately lacking in public policy discussions -- reason and humor! His humor and easy-to-follow presentation of legal issues make the book a very quick read. The road trip also introduces the reader to corners of America most of us will never visit or know. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the church/state debate. Even if you're not, there is a giggle on every page. Who can't use a little laughter? Wexler has even interested me in reading more books!