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The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness Hardcover – January 1, 1996


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 191 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc; 1st edition (January 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393039617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393039610
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,910,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While neither a full nor a particularly sophisticated treatment of the issue of church/state separation, this is a compelling rebuttal to those who claim that America is a Christian nation. The authors don't address the many recent judicial controversies about public expression of religion. Instead, they explore the Constitution's origins and its "intentionally secular base." They point out that even the religious men among those who ratified the Constitution wanted to distance religion from government. Also, they discuss the views of Roger Williams, who wanted to keep the church pure and thus separate; of John Locke, whose liberalism limited the role of the state; and of Thomas Jefferson, who incorporated Locke's ideas in America. Indeed, the authors note that the godless Constitutional structure was undermined only later, when God entered U.S. currency, in 1863, and in such institutions as the Pledge of Allegiance. The authors believe that while the Constitution does not exclude religion from the public square, it offers no special privileges; thus, they say, religious faith should not be a litmus test for political leaders. Kramnick teaches government at Cornell University; Moore teaches history there.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Scholars Kramnick (government, Cornell) and Moore (history, Cornell) have abandoned the "scholarly apparatus" of footnotes and bibliography in favor of an impassioned polemic on separation of church and state aimed at a popular audience. They present the case that strict separation of church and state, while a source of debate from the nation's founding onward, was indeed the intent of the founders. The vision of a limited, secular state populated by a religious and moral citizenry was at the heart of the new American republic. Using well-selected historical examples, they distinguish "between a religiously informed politics and the politics of religious correctness." The debate about the proper balance between church and state continues today, perhaps approaching its highest pitch since the Constitutional period. The authors ably present a timely and important topic in this election year in all its historical context and complexity. For most large collections.?Linda V. Carlisle, Southern Illinois Univ., Edwardsville
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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The book, however is excellent and should be required reading for students in high school.
Eric Breitenstein
These are secular attributes of government, i.e. that the state should protect us, and our property, and keep us free.
Bucherwurm
It is easy to point out factual errors but the authors of this book have done something ingenious in their writings.
Enigma

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Steve Jackson on June 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore set out in 1996 to defend the American principle of church-state relations, which they take to mean a rather strict view of church-state separation. Tracing the principle from Roger Williams and John Locke through the founders to recent times, they argue that the Christian right misrepresents the Constitution and the First Amendment.

Certainly a corrective to some of the rhetoric of the religious right is warranted. One occasionally hears the claim that the Constitution is a "Christian document," that the founders were all devout Christians, and that America was founded as a "Christian nation."

As our authors point out, at the time of the Constitution most states had established churches and religious tests for office. The Constitution, by outlawing religious tests for federal offices and omitting references to God as a source of authority was a definite break from practice. For this reason, many opponents of the Constitution labeled it a "godless" document. And far from being uniformly orthodox, many (although certainly not all) of the founders were hostile to traditional (that is Trinitarian) Christianity.

There are two problems with this work, one methodological and the other factual. By its own terms, the First Amendment applies only to the federal government. (An attempt by Madison to make it binding on the states failed.) It wasn't until the twentieth century that the Supreme Court held that the fourteenth amendment applied the Bill of Rights to the states. That being the case, it is likely that part of the goal of the Constitution was to leave religion where it existed - with the states.

That leads to my second complaint: a failure to discuss any evidence that is contrary to our authors' thesis.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Enigma on November 21, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a difficult book to write a review about simply because one does not know where to start. The book was authored by two Cornell University professors and comes off as a scholarly critique, however upon closer examination you realize that it is nothing but a façade for factual errors. The lack of footnotes and the use of out of context quotes is farcical coming from two professors. They use many one or two word quotes such as these "discrimination" (38) "oppressive measure" (68) "infernal infamy" (103) "left wing" (112) "spiritual church" (122) and on it goes. Just what are you supposed to gain from the fact that the founders might have penned "oppressive measure". Another hurdle in reviewing this book is where do you start with all the inaccuracies. It is easy to point out factual errors but the authors of this book have done something ingenious in their writings. They have mixed factual inaccuracies with their editorial opinions giving the appearance to the reader that even the founding fathers agreed with THEIR thesis. So in reality all they have done is peppered their opinions with the 2 worded quotes attributed to the founding fathers, somehow conveying historicity to their opinions. While it does not take a genius to figure this out, all you need to do is read a few other reviews to find out just how many people were so easily brainwashed by this book.

The book is also replete with ad homein attacks, arguments from silence and strawmen attacks. I personally did not expect this from two highly regarded professors and I think it shows some childishness. It would be easy to rip apart the factuality of the book if one had more space instead, I will just focus on their Chapter 4 where we are introduced to John Locke.
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56 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on February 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
"The founding fathers established the Constitution, and over 94 percent of it is directly from the Bible." Those are the words of Lee Behnken, an active promoter of PSCA, an organization dedicated to putting chaplains in our public schools. Evangelicals like Behnken often make such statements, and in doing so show their abysmal knowledge of the Constitution and those who developed it.
There actually is no mention of God in the Constitution, and the only reference it makes to religion is in article 6 where it states that there shall be no religious test for political office. A current tragedy is that religious conservatives have, indeed, established informal religious tests of office through their "voting guides".
In developing the constitution men like Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison were strongly influenced by the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke who believed that the function of Government was solely to keep the peace. While religious enthusiasts like to point out the section of the Declaration of Independence that states that our "Creator" endowed us with certain unalienable rights, they seem unable to thoroughly assess the meaning of the following words that state these rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are secular attributes of government, i.e. that the state should protect us, and our property, and keep us free. And that is exactly the role envisioned by our Founders. Government should not promote religious laws that place restriction on our basic freedoms. Government should not decide moral issues.
Jefferson and the others felt that when religion was involved in government it corrupted government and degraded religion.
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