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

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

Noah Feldman, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24 (306pp) ISBN 978-0-374-28131-1

Feldman, a legal rising star and author of After Jihad (a look at democracy and Islam), turns his attention to America's battle over law and religious values in this lucid and careful study. Those Feldman calls "legal secularists" want the state wholly cleansed of religion, while "values evangelicals" want American government to endorse the Christianity on which they say its authority rests. Feldman thinks both positions too narrow for America's tastes and needs. Much of his volume shows how those needs have changed. James Madison and his friends, Feldman writes, hoped to "protect religion from government, not the other way round." Debates in the 19th century focused on public schools, whose culture of "nonsectarian Christianity" (really Protestantism) created dilemmas for Catholics, and in the 20th century faced challenges from secularists and evangelicals—the former won in the courts until very recently; the latter, often enough, won public opinion. Feldman proposes a compromise: that government "[allow] greater space for public manifestations of religion" while preventing government from linking itself with "religious institutions" (by funding them, for example). The "values" controversy, as Feldman shows, concerns electoral clout, not just legal reasoning. His patient historical chapters will leave readers on all sides far more informed as matters like stem-cell research and the Supreme Court's forthcoming 10 Commandments decision take the headlines. Agent, Heather Schroder. (July)