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Lunch » Tags » Book » Reviews » Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church/State Wars » User review

Engage brain, enjoy book

  • Nov 18, 2009
Wexler is a smart-aleck relapsed-Jewish atheist law professor, pretty much polar opposite in spiritual and political views to my fundamentalist Protestant conservative views. But he's also a funny and insightful writer. If he had written the law books I had to research during my coursework on legal research for my Master of Library Science degree program, I might have taken up my father on his offer to pay for me to get my law degree. Instead I had to research other dry-as-dust law books, so our careers paths took different directions.

Wexler backs up his premise--onsite visits to the geographic sites at the center of major church/state First Amendment battles in the United States--with clear, concise, interesting (and even funny) historical context , legal arguments, and Supreme Court outcomes. Wexler's explanations in understandable language lay bare the legal issues so that an engaged layperson can think about and consider her response to the legal issue and the Supreme Court ruling.

There are still some things that are too subtle for my unwashed nonlegal brain. For example, on p. 108 while explicating the Ten Commandments on Government property issue, Wexler says that the jurisdictions in question "changed their displays to make them even more unconstitutional" by adding copies of eight foundational documents such as the Declaration of Independence. I can't see (and Wexler doesn't explain) how foundational documents upon which the Constitution is based could be unconstitutional. That would be as if a building inspector rejected a building foundation as unsafe, but approved the building erected on top of it.

I also take issue with Wexler's straw man argument that Intelligent Design (ID) is a Trojan Horse to slip Christianity into the classroom. Wexler says (on p. 209) that some ID proponents believe that "aliens from another planet may have created the world, or (my favorite) that human beings traveled back in time to do it." No Biblical-literalist Christian who is using ID as a stealth wedge for creationism would make non-Biblical claims such as these. So Wexler needs to be more subtle and precise in his description of the ID and creationist position here to strengthen his argument.

Wexler ends strong with a well-written argument from law, logic and passion that religion is too valuable as a counterbalance to state abuse of power to risk being subject to state control or service.

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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #37
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Starred Review. Boston University law professor Wexler is also a published humorist. This felicitous combination of talents is put to good use as he visits the towns and cities where the always controversial cases concerning separation of church and state arise. WexlerÖs lucid explications of difficult constitutional concepts and the vagaries of Supreme Court rulings are superb, providing readers a deeper understanding of the First Amendment and Supreme Court jurisprudence. But thatÖs only half the story. Wexler is laugh-out-loud funny as he narrates his odyssey through battleground sites from rural Wisconsin through Texas to the chambers of the U.S. Senate. Along the way he happily and with a usually generous spirit skewers Supreme Court justices, legislators, educators, law school professors and pretty much anyone else, including himself, who has ever taken a position on the enduring American controversies surrounding prayer in schools, religious displays on public property, or the teaching of evolution. This is a rare treat, a combination of thoughtful analysis and quirky humor that illuminates an issue that rarely elicits a laugh—and that is central to the American body politic.(June)
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ISBN-10: 0807000442
ISBN-13: 978-0807000441
Author: Jay Wexler
Publisher: Beacon Press

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