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The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America's Founders Paperback – May 3, 2011
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“A useful little volume . . . The separation of church and state is important, this collection suggests, because that’s how the country was conceived.”—Jeff Sharlet, The Revealer
“This brief primer includes some of the most eloquent and cogent arguments by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, George Washington, [and] Patrick Henry that will help a contemporary audience understand the original reasoning behind the separation of church and state.”—Catholic Opinion
“No longer will the earnest citizen need to rely on second- and third-hand versions of how separation of church and state came about—or what it really means. The Separation of Church and State is an invaluable handbook of primary sources for the perplexed—and the concerned—in today’s whirlpool of contrary opinions and strident voices.”—Edwin S. Gaustad, author of Proclaim Liberty throughout All the Land: A History of Church and State in America
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Forrest Church (1948–2009) served for almost three decades as senior minister and was minister of public theology at All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City. He wrote or edited twenty-five books, including Love & Death.
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Top Customer Reviews
Many important individuals are mentioned in this book with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison receiving the bulk of the coverage. The reason these two are singled out should be obvious: They were two of the most influential of all in the writing of the U.S. Constitution and their firm stance in favor of religious liberty was unyielding. Of the two men, Jefferson was the most insistent that church and state remain as far apart as possible and it isn't surprising that three of the book's chapters are dedicated to him. Jefferson wrote many letters about this topic and among the nation's many founders, he was the most instrumental at keeping religion and government from joining forces.
Most of the names mentioned in this book are well- known from American history but there are a few surprises. I did not know the names Richard Price or John Caleb until I read this book but I can understand why each was included. Both of these men were high- ranking and very influential religious ministers and they were both convinced that church and state should never be allowed to mix. This is similar to the sentiments expressed by others in this book. But the difference is that these two individuals were ministers and their feelings add credibility to the church/state separation issue. Even though they were both ministers and believed religion was a very important part of society, they also knew religion and politics made dangerous bedfellows. Give one religious group control of governmental laws and all other religious views will not only be silenced, their fundamental freedoms will be lost. These wise men knew that it was better to keep religion out of the laws completely, both for the good of the nation and for the good of churches and religiously- minded individuals.
Probably the main thing I like about this book is the fact that it includes the actual text taken from the various letters, speeches, essays, etc. that each of these men composed relating to church/state separation. The reason I like this is because it puts to rest any claims that the words of these men have been "taken out of context". I have heard many of the small quotations taken from different letters and essays, like Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and most everyone else has heard these famous quotations as well. Those who are opposed to church/state separation often try to say that these pro separation quotes are taken out of context- that the person who spoke or wrote them didn't really mean what he said. But here, author Forrest Church has taken these letters, speeches, and essays and presented them in their entirety (the exception is Washington's farewell address, which is presented in condensed form). This way, the reader can read the entire document and clearly see that there is nothing taken out of context. When, for example, Jefferson told the Danbury Baptists that the U.S. Constitution was explicitly worded in a way that builds a "wall of separation between church and state", he really meant what he said. Reading the entire text of the letters sent back and forth between Jefferson and the Danbury Baptists, it is very clear how Jefferson felt about church/state relations.
Besides the actual letters and essays, most of the remainder of this book is old news that the majority of Americans have heard before. We all know how the early founders generally wanted to keep church and state separate (there were some exceptions, but they were outvoted) and how they believed that religion was a very personal decision that should never be interfered with from government. So, other than letting the reader absorb the entire text of these leader's speeches, there really isn't much new in this book. It is really just a history refresher on the problems of church and state and how the U.S. Constitution explicitly calls for separation of the two entities.
One other problem I have with this book is its short length. It is only 160 pages in length and it contains contributions from only about ten or eleven different men. It is also very small in size, with dimensions that are similar to those of a handbook and a length that needs to be about twice as long to make it more effective. It's nice to read these letters in their entirety and it's good to read more proof that America was intended by its founders to have a secular government. But more proof and the inclusion of more articles from other intellectuals of the time would make the book more thorough and more believable.
Overall, I like "The Separation of Church and State" and I think it's a good reference book for those who are in favor of church/state separation and need some ammunition to take on the pro- theocratic people who feel that America would be best served if its Constitution and laws included more specific religious doctrine. It would be a better book if it included quotes from more people and if its length was about double. But it is still a good book to read about the never- ending debate of church/state separation and it makes a good handbook and reference guide for understanding this important subject.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is actually relatively mild in its coverage and especially in dealing with the input of the core Founding Fathers...Read more