Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Church-State Separation Defended

a review by Edd Doerr

In Freedom We Trust, by Edward M. Buckner and Michael E. Buckner, Prometheus Books,  2013, 281 pp, $18.

This "guide to religious liberty" is a spirited defense of church-state separation and secular (i.e. religiously neutral) government. On the one hand, the authors show that historically the US pioneered separation as the best possible way to protect individual religious freedom. They thoroughly debunk the anti-separation nonsense spewed by Newt Gingrich, David Barton, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and other champions of Religious Right theocratic ideology and clericalism. They explore a number of the church-state controversies that have muddied the waters over the years.

On the other hand, the book is seriously deficient,  essentially ignoring the three most important campaigns to tear down the wall of separation. It devotes a mere three skimpy, inadequate pages to the Religious Right, conservative, Republican drive to divert public funds to religious private schools through vouchers and to undermine democratic public education. As for the major ongoing Religious Right, conservative, Republican drive to seriously undermine women's rights and women's religious liberty and rights of conscience on abortion and contraception the book is utterly, inexplicably silent.  Equally silent are the authors on the growing problem of fundamentalist infiltration of and proselytizing in public schools.

Further, the book's bibliography ignores the work of such important church-state experts as Leo Pfeffer and other books on church-state issues by their own  publisher, Prometheus Books. The authors also list only a few of the organizations on the firing line defending separation and, although the authors are secular humanists, they pointedly ignore the church-state separation organization founded by humanists Edward Ericson  and Sherwin Wine over 30 years ago (Americans for Religious Liberty, of which I have been CEO since 1982). Finally, the authors fail to adequately discuss the long list of important Supreme Court rulings on these vital issues. In short, this is only half  the book it could have and should have been.

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