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The Right to Be Wrong: Ending the Culture War over Religion in America Hardcover – November 1, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


" . . . an engaging and forceful brief on behalf of free religious expression . . . sharp and witty . . . I find it persuasive." -- Diane Ravitch, NY Sun

"If you care about religion in America, please read this book." -- Mel Gibson

"an insiring account . . . Hasson writes engagingly about . . . legal wranglings over the First Amendment, and proposes a return to basic principles" -- National Review

"rollicking, surprising, wholly original . . . it flashes light on its subject as nothing else ever has." -- Michael Novak

About the Author

Kevin Seamus Hasson is the founder and chairman of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm that protects the free expression of all religious traditions. Hasson lives with his family in Fairfax County, Virginia.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 159 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; First Edition edition (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594030839
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594030833
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,362,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By F. E. Guerra Pujol on October 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Imagine a cross between James Madison, one of our greatest Founding Fathers, and Ernest Hemingway, one of the great modern writers of the English language. If you cannot imagine this, then read this book, for the author writes like Hemingway, as if he were having a friendly conversation with you, but unlike most books about religion and politics, he puts forward political ideas that Madison would most likely approve of.

The author's thesis also has the advantage of being sensible and pragmatic: we should allow for more robust religious pluralism in our society. In many ways, this is precisely the same formula James Madison proposes for secular "factions" (i.e. interest groups).

In the Federalist Papers, Madison correctly notes that "factions" are dangerous, but his originality lies in arguing that we should have more factions, not less, because the more factions there are, the more difficult it is for any one faction to achieve dominance. This is, in effect, what the author proposes for 'religious factions', and I think it is a brilliant solution, a Madisonian solution.

In addition, the author provides a very readable history of religious intolerance on American soil. He gave me a much deeper perspective of the problem than I had before I read his book, and indirectly, he made it easier for me to understand the motives of religious fanatics in the present (especially the problem of intolerance in the Muslim world).
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Format: Hardcover
If any aspect of religious liberty is important to you, you will absolutely want to read Seamus Hasson's engaging book, and you will want to give away copies to your friends -- and your ideological adversaries (why not? you'll win points for generosity and plant seeds of reason).

Never has so painless a remedy been offered over-the-counter to ease the pandemic of (let's put it kindly) limited grasp of the history and issues at the heart of church-state relations and religious freedom in America. Hasson provides a surprisingly complete and highly-readable narrative that leaves you feeling as if you (finally!) understand where this controversy has been, where it's now stalled, and on what basis it actually can be eased.

The book's ambitious subtitle, "Ending the Culture War Over Religion in America," is just that -- ambitious. But, heaven knows, we need a good snort of ambition to not abandon our national quest and settle in the foggy vale of current judicial confusion over application of the Constitution's minimalist Establishment Clause to the States by its incorporation into the Fourteenth Amendment. Confused already? Well, the courts aren't doing much better.

Hasson points to the historic basis of individual and collective religious freedoms in rights arising from our nature as free beings. Every person must be acknowledged free to follow -- and publicly express -- his or her own conscience, regardless of law. This may seem idealistic, but it holds the clarity and universality lacking in all the other attempted approaches the author colorfully describes.
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Format: Hardcover
In this highly readable book, preeminent constitutional lawyer and First-Amendment scholar Seamus Hasson provides a worthy tour of Church-State relations at law in America.

Mr. Hasson brings a wealth of real-life cases that read stranger than fiction, with such amusing examples as the parking-barrier worshippers, and, beyond the levity, brilliant analysis of one aspect of the culture wars.

The book poses provocative questions and points to some principles that may avert our impalement on the horns of dilemma, largely by providing a rare coherent take on the so-called religion clauses of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
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Format: Hardcover
By far the best book I've read on religion in America. Hasson is delightfully witty as he skewers both extremes in the culture war. One extreme, "the pilgrims," are people of whatever faith (Muslims, Christians, etc,) who want their religion to the be the only official one. The other extreme, "the park rangers," want to drive all religion from public life. Hasson's solution is to welcome all faiths into the public square.

Hasson is, however, no relativist. He doesn't think that the various faiths that he'd welcome into public life are all somehow true. As he says in his introduction "on any given day, I think most of my clients are wrong. But I firmly believe that...they have the right to be wrong."

Throughout the book Hasson reflects on a series of stories, beginning with arguments aboard the Mayflower and ending with arguments on Al Jazeera. They are, at turns, funny, poignant and tragic, but they are all exceptionally well written. Who would have thought a book on religious liberties would be a page turner...but it is. Buy 2 copies--one for yourself and one for a confused friend.
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Format: Paperback
The story of religious freedom in America is, as Kevin Seamus Hasson tells it, the story of the conflict of conscience against Puritans and Park Rangers. Puritans--named after the Plymouth settlers--"want to use the state to coerce the religious consciences of those with whom they disagree." Park Rangers--hilariously named after a group of hapless San Francisco bureaucrats (read their story on pages 3-4)--"insist...that only a society that owns no truth at all can be safe for freedom." Puritans represent aggressive religion, Park Rangers aggressive secularism. While they appear contradictory at first, they make the same underlying assumption: In the public square, one does not have the right to be wrong.

Hasson narrates the 400-year battle of conscience against its foes briskly and humorously. Part One, "Learning the Hard Way," shows how colonial Americans--with few notable exceptions--persecuted minority faiths, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish. In New England, the Puritan establishment persecuted--through exile, torture, and execution--radicals within their own dissenting, Congregationalist tradition (e.g., Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson), as well as Quakers. In the South, the Anglican establishment discriminated against, among others, Baptists. Other colonies--such as Rhode Island, Maryland, and Pennsylvania--were tolerant with a degree of Protestant diversity, but also drafted laws that legally privileged Protestants over Catholics and Jews.

Part Two, "Groping for a Right," narrates the evolution of religious freedom from "toleration" to "right." The former conceives of religious freedom as a grant of government policy. What government gives, however, it also can take away.
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