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The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment Hardcover – December 16, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Like Levy's earlier work, this new book on the establishment clause of the First Amendment is exhaustively researched, forcefully and relentlessly argued. It traces the sources of disestablishment in the colonial experience, offers exegetical commentary on the relevant discussion at the constitutional convention and in the ratification contests, and insistently concludes that Congress, in writing the religious freedom clause, took the broad view, flatly prohibiting government support to religion in generali.e., to all denominations, without discrimination. Opponents argue that the Framers did not intend to forbid aid to all denominations on a nondiscriminatory basis. Levy takes on McCloskey, Corwin, Justices White, Burger, Rehnquist, the Attorney General, the President himself. It is no contest. The argument for absolute disestablishment has been made, once and for all. Milton Cantor, History Dept., Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Leonard Levy's The Establishment Clause: Religion and the First Amendment is a class work examines the circumstances that led to the writing of the establishment clause of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . . " He argues that, contrary to popular belief, the framers of the Constitution intended to prohibit government aid to religion even on an impartial basis. He thus refutes the view of "non-preferentialists," who interpret the clause as allowing such aid provided that the assistance is not restricted to a preferred church. This is a new edition in which Levy has added to his original arguments and incorporated much new material, including an analysis of Thomas Jefferson's ideas on the relationship between church and state and a discussion of the establishment clause cases brought before th Supreme Court since the book was original published in 1986. -- Midwest Book Review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; Second Edition, Revised edition (December 16, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080782156X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807821565
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,126,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan L. Widger on June 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
With attempts by our current President to allow federal funds to go to religious charities, a better understanding of the history and meaning of the First Amendment is desparately needed. One could hardly be better qualified to give us such an education than Leonard W. Levy in his book on the Establishment Clause.
In his book, Levy refutes the nonpreferentialists' claim that the First Amendment clause, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," merely prohibits Congress from providing preferential aid to one church. If "an establishment of religion" meant only single-church establishments, Congress would only be prohibited from exclusively benefiting one church but not prohibited from aiding religion impartially. But, as Levy points out, history does not support the nonpreferentialists' interpretation.
Although the five southern colonies did have exclusive Anglical establishments, the colonies of New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire came to have multiple religious establishments, and, indeed, the colonies of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey never had establishments of any kind. After the Revolution, opposition to establishments increased, resulting in states having to replace their exclusive or dual establishments or even ending their establishments altogether. Thus, the historical fact of multiple establishments of religion contradicts the nonpreferentialists' interpretation that "an establishment of religion" referred only to single-church establishments, and, therefore, does not support their claim that the establishment clause only prohibits Congress from making laws preferring one church. Nor is their interpretation supported by the debates between the Federalists and Anti-federalists.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a relatively short book by the noted legal historian and constitutional scholar Leonard Levy. Somewhat polemical in nature, this book is concerned primarily with rebutting the 'original intention' approach to the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Written originally in response to Reagan era claims that the establishment clause permitted non-preferential aid to religion, this book maintains its relevance as this claims continue to be made by a variety of conservative politicians and legal theorists. The non-preferentialist approach states that the establishment clause authorizes federal aid to religion so long as it is not preferential and specifically avoids a single church. The opposite, separationist approach, advocates the so-called "wall" between church and state with the federal government prohibited from aiding religion. Levy systemically examines the nature of religous establishments at the time of the formulation of the constitution, the attitudes of the Framers towards separation, the rationale for seperation, and the basic logic of the Bill of Rights (a subject on which Levy is an established authority). The result is a devastating critique of non-preferentialism based on original intent. Levy shows well that religous establishments in several colonies/states were plural in nature, so establishment can't refer just to favoring one religion. In line with a great deal of other scholarship, he shows that the framers were definitely separationist in orientation. With other scholars, Levy stresses that separationism was advocated by a coaltion of relatively secular intellectuals like Madison and Jefferson and a group of devout churchmen like the Baptists Isaac Backus and John Leland, all of whom felt that separation was necessary to safeguard religion.Read more ›
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gerard D. Launay on November 28, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The confrontation between religious and secular values is one of the hottest issues that will confront the Supreme Court in the twenty-first century. Surprisingly, few Americans are schooled in the origins of the First Amendment and the thinking of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and other founding founders in including this clause as part of the Bill of Rights. A good portion of the volume discusses this extremely relevant topic. We learn that Madison was instrumental in the passage of the Establishment Clause. He saw it as a limitation on the power of Congress to coerce individuals to worship God in any manner inconsistent with their conscience, indeed to enact any law that involved religious topics.

The book continues its discussion of efforts to promote prayer and religious doctrine through government backing by examining leading 19th and 20th century Supreme Court cases. I learned that the celebrated liberal Justice William O. Douglas wrote opinions that weakened the wall of separation; he authored conservative decisions that called for the encouragement of religion by the state...(I expected the opposite). Every informed citizen probably should read this book to discover why the establishment clause is an essential pillar of American liberty.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Pinky on January 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Leonard Levy, one of the country's leading constitutional historians, gives an incisive and informative history as to how and why the Establishment Clause (and the entire First Amendment) came into being. While it is true that the original colonists escaped religious (read that "christian") persecution in Europe, Mr. Levy exposes the lie that they came here for "religious freedom." That's not entirely the case as the original colonies were, in fact, little theocracies.
A great book, well written and easy to understand. If you are a "First Amendment" enthusiast, this is the book for you.
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