THE FIRST LIBERTY: Religion and the American Republic by William Lee Miller
Kirkus Star

THE FIRST LIBERTY: Religion and the American Republic

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We take the First Amendment so much for granted that few realize how controversial it was in the Republic's early days, and what a watershed it marked in the history of the West. With great intelligence, scholarship, and wit, Miller recounts the philosophical skirmishes and political machinations that led to the ""wall of separation"" (Jefferson's term) between church and state, and its implications for the present day. Miller focuses on three standard-bearers of religious liberty: Jefferson, James Madison and Roger Williams. Jefferson is saluted for his authorship of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom--the first state document to grant absolute religious liberty. Williams, a Puritan of exceptional integrity, stands as Jefferson's flip side: a man who supported religious freedom not as a rational secularist but from a deeply held spiritual faith. Most intriguing of all may be Madison, a shrinking violet who cunningly engineered Virginia's acceptance of religious liberty and, a few years later, drafted the Bill of Rights. The issues these three championed reverberate down to the present in debates over school prayer, conscientious objection and allied matters. Miller concludes by concocting a hilarious hypothetical legal case pitting the fictitious South Mesa Bluffs Municipal Softball League against opponents of public religious expression; in the process, he sharply raps the Supreme Court for what he sees as an inconsistent, slovenly approach to the great constitutional question of church-state relations. An elegant book, erudite and wry.

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 1985
Publisher: Knopf