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The Impossibility of Religious Freedom

2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691130583
ISBN-10: 0691130582
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The First Amendment is stirring second thoughts among scholars wary of the social and legal consequences of religious liberty. Herself a witness for the plaintiffs, Sullivan recounts the tangled courtroom drama in a Boca Raton case in which a group of Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish families unsuccessfully sought a religious exemption to city ordinances prohibiting any vertical cemetery memorials (including upright crosses, statues, candles, and Stars of David). What emerges from Sullivan's carefully documented analysis of the case is the irreducible diversity of American religions-and the profound difficulty of accommodating such a wide range of beliefs, especially when individual convictions and practices diverge from official orthodoxies. Consequently, in reluctantly ruling against the Boca Raton plaintiffs, the judge voices perplexities now all too typical of American jurists trying to balance the rights of individual conscience against the demands of public order and democratic governance. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A smart-and in the present circumstances, sobering-little book."--Christopher Caldwell, Financial Times

"Sullivan's book has the great virtue of placing abstract legal dilemmas in the concrete realities of everyday life."--R. Laurence Moore, American Scholar

"Scholars or lay-people intrigued by the status of religion in contemporary developed nations will find Sullivan's study very useful."--John M. McTaggart, International Review of Modern Sociology

"Drawing on her expertise in law and religion, Sullivan argues that religious freedom in America is impossible. . . . [She] succeed[s] in arguing that religious freedoms are not as free as one might think."--Library Journal

"Sullivan's examination of the judicial process is only one important aspect her book. The most important contribution is her discussion of the problems of how law defines religion and through its definition impedes religious liberty."--Bryan K. Fair, Journal of Law and Religion

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691130582
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691130583
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Michalski on September 30, 2008
Format: Paperback
Dr. Sullivan gives a new look at what the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause mean in America. The case in Boca Raton clearly shows that the judicial system is at odds protecting our religious liberties and trying to sustain the idea that the state can not endorse any religion. We also get a look at the bias that some judges have against religions that are not of their own. A great read for students of law, religion, and the humanities.
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5 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Peter P. Fuchs on October 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book seems to raise important practical questions about what might be called the push-comes-to-shove end of religious freedom. The author's reasoning is very interesting and clear. It is not a question of the well established rights to believe and act in non-harmful ways in society based on one's creed or philosophy. It concerns the more particular question of how religion can be defined, and whether the state can really do it. Hence, the title is not quite as much a sop to shock-value effort as it seems. Of course, one of the signs that the book contains some significant reasoning, instead of one more book of legal philosophy that treads water for hundreds of pages, is that reactionaries don't like the obvious conclusion the author draws from it. Namely, equality. Reactionaries are all for freedom and pluralism, as long as their point of view is in some way ascendent and proscriptive of law. If not, they find a way to argue against it. And you have to give some of the Catholic reactionaries, such as those at the Mirror of Justice, points for creativity, There they are all in cahoots with Rick Garnett's "Natural Law Manifestos" the dude's flamboyant sense of things still makes me chuckle) to implement a conservative Catholic agenda for a society that charmingly clearly has little interest in it, at least explicitly. Further, they are supporting and representing a legal theory for an institution that not only had precious little interest in any form of religious freedom for most of its history, but fought it in every single way.Read more ›
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