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The Last Freedom: Religion from the Public School to the Public Square
Joseph P. Viteritti
Princeton University Press, 2007
296 pp., $27.95
Richard N. Ostling
Exercised Over "Free Exercise"
The waning phase of the acrimonious Bush era features a newly aggressive secularism, reflected in bestsellers that cast sophomoric scorn upon believers of all faiths. According to a New York Times Book Review critic, it looks like America's ballyhooed culture war is petering out as the Religious Right suffers "the thrashings of a dinosaur that can do a lot of damage even in its final throes."
Or on the contrary, have evangelicals "joined the American elite," as the subtitle of a forthcoming book from Oxford University Press contends? Indeed, as a couple dozen other books warn, have believers grasped so much power that "fascists" or "Christocrats" or "Christianists" or "theocons" threaten to supplant American democracy with theocracy?
There is related confusion over religion's legal status. In his impassioned book The Last Freedom: Religion from the Public School to the Public Square, Joseph P. Viteritti, director of Hunter College's graduate program in urban affairs, asserts that religious freedom is being suppressed by cultural elites—an assessment echoed by many observers. But from other circles we get a sharply contrasting view: in God vs. the Gavel (Cambridge Univ. Press), for example, Marci A. Hamilton of Yeshiva University's law school argues that religious liberty has gotten out of hand as agitators twist the Constitution to unfairly claim "broad sway to violate the vast majority of laws."
With one-vote U.S. Supreme Court majorities on so many religious and moral disputes, the next president's nominees are likely to tip the balance. Viteritti counts among the experts who are dissatisfied with the Court's religion jurisprudence these past 60 years, though they reach no consensus on a solution. The prime example of this literature is Separation of Church and State (Harvard) by Philip Hamburger of the Columbia University Law School, who believes that the First Amendment, though written in order to limit government intrusion, has been interpreted so as "to constrain ...