Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem -- and What We Should Do About It

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Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem -- and What We Should Do About It

By Noah Feldman
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005
320 pp. $25.00
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Sobered and enriched by his experience in the Iraqi and Afghan constitutional debates, Feldman, a law professor at New York University, returns to the U.S. debate over secularism in this rich and rewarding book. He swiftly and competently reviews key episodes in the history of church-state relations to show how the growing religious diversity of the American people has led to new efforts to find common ground for political and social life. Feldman's brief but brilliant analysis of the recent Supreme Court approach to church-state issues is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the contemporary debate. The modern Supreme Court, Feldman argues, has gotten things almost exactly wrong. Recent decisions have lowered the walls preventing the state financing of religious activities (such as voucher programs) while raising new and historically unprecedented barriers toward religious symbols in public (such as crèches at town halls). Feldman would allow more religious symbols in the public square but try harder to keep public dollars out of church (and synagogue and mosque) coffers. Whatever the fate of his proposals, Feldman has done a superb job of making complex legal and historical information on an important public debate usefully accessible.