FAITH AND FREEDOM by Marvin E. Frankel


Religious Liberty in America
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 A crisp and spirited argument for the near-total separation of church and state, by a former New York federal judge (Partisan Justice, 1980). Though Frankel seems defensive about the pamphletlike length of this book, its considerable charm is due in no small part to its brevity. It is a ``thumbnail history'' of the Free Exercise and Establishment clauses of the First Amendment, plus a ``sketch'' of recent church/state cases decided by the Supreme Court. The author has a sharp viewpoint and a precise and often witty pen. He begins by debunking the myth that American democracy was founded on the colonists' Christianity, noting surprisingly that they were ``relative[ly] indifferen[t] toward religion.'' According to Frankel, America was conceived as a secular nation, and for the most part, the modern Supreme Court has fortified the wall between church and state, forbidding nonsectarian silent prayers in public schools, striking down Florida ordinances outlawing Santer°a's animal sacrifices, and refusing to permit a group of Satmar Hasidic Jews to carve out a school district within their religious community in order to receive public funds for special education. But Frankel also criticizes the Court for permitting the city of Pawtucket, R.I., to display a cräche on public property, and the city of Pittsburgh a menorah; he prefers a simple, absolute rule forbidding even the most benign endorsement of religion by government. He blasts the Court's implication that it might endorse intentionally vague ``moment of silence'' laws in public schools, and he deplores the Court's upholding of the conviction of Rev. Sun Myung Moon for filing false tax returns (whether a bank account belonged to him or to his tax-exempt church was a close question that, like all close questions, ``should be decided for freedom''). Ultimately, this is a case for tolerance for all religions, even those unrepresented by majoritarian government--and for irreligion, too. A rare work that successfully distills a whole philosophical debate into a few accessible pages.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-8090-4377-7
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1994


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