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Religion and government

11

God on Trial

by Peter Irons

I decided to take a break from my lengthy and slow going journey through Judt’s Postwar and check out God on Trial, a book on recent church-state separation cases that’s getting some good reviews. I was not disappointed; this is a fascinating book that deserves to be read by everyone interested in these cases.

Irons’s book takes a unique approach: rather than just describing these cases, he gets participants on both sides to give us some of their background and explain why they did what they did. It makes for interesting and illuminating reading. Irons discusses six cases: Mt Soledad cross case, the Texas football game prayer case, the two Ten Commandments cases from Kentucky and Texas, the California Pledge of Allegiance case, and the Dover ID case. He gets important participants in each trial to discuss their view of what happened. The one exception to this is the Dover trial, where the pro-ID person was not actually involved with the board until after the ID policy was in place. For each case, people on both sides of the issue run that gamut in terms of their explanations. We mostly get people who just felt the policy in question was wrong and that was the extent of it. There are some people who appear incredibly confused and didn’t appear to have thought about the issue at all. You also get instances of activists on either side, who are confident in their grasp of the history and law of the issue at hand. Predictably, you see two general opinions: the separationist side thinks religion shouldn’t be in government and the other side believes their freedom of religion and expression is being threatened. They aren’t all the fire-breathing atheists and Christian nation zealots that each side characterizes the other as on occasion.

Irons does an excellent job of describing each case, along with some interesting insights about them. The comments of participants in each case make for interesting reading on top of that. If you’re interested in these issues and want to have a good grasp of what actually happened and what the opposing sides believe, in their own words, I highly recommend checking out this book.

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