This book is not about Madalyn Murray O´Hair. It may help to exorcise her pale wan ghost from our legal system. She really doesn´t amount to anything at all. She is irrelevant. There is nothing to be afraid of. But so many people don´t know that.
This book IS about who our laws belong to, and what our federal Constitution really means. Understanding the law is not the monopoly of lawyers, judges, elected officials, or people with advanced graduate degrees. All of those have an important role to play, but in a democratic republic, the law belongs to all of us. There is no reason that each and every American citizen cannot understand, and contribute to, the shape of our laws. That is especially true of our constitutional law - the supreme law of the land.
One book can´t cover everything in constitutional law. It can´t even introduce everything. This book provides some simple introduction to Supreme Court cases, and federal appeals court cases, on the role of religion in public life. That means digging up court rulings from around 1869 right up until 2005. Really, the government and churches do have to interact with each other in all kinds of ways. Why? Because "We are a religious people, whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." (That was written by Justice William O. Douglas in 1952. It has never been abandoned by the Supreme Court in all the years since).
A consistent line of principle
There is a consistent line of principle to be found in Supreme Court cases developed over at least 150 years. Each chapter helps to present what those fundamental principles are, using the words of actual Supreme Court opinions. Of course, the author relies on his own reading of these cases. The author offers some original thoughts on questions the courts have not fully resolved. Most important, this is a book on how to find, and read, the actual words of court rulings. Not what the newspapers squeeze into an article, not what the opposing lawyers shout into the microphone, after the decision comes down, but what the court really said, in full. There is an appendix which provides some longer cites from actual cases, for readers who want to read for themselves. There is a chapter on how to find cases, in law libraries or on the internet, for readers who really want to read it all for themselves.
To understand the law, we do not need to rely on news reporters, analysts, or fundraising letters from interest groups. Those all have an important role to play, but neither God nor man authorized them to do our thinking for us. None of them tell us a complete story. Perhaps they cannot, perhaps they do not want to. It doesn´t really matter what their reasons or motives are. No citizen needs to depend on these sources alone.
Good News: Read it for yourself
We can read federal court decisions for ourselves, think about what the courts wrote for ourselves, and come to our own conclusions about what it means for our lives and our country. There is a lot of very good news available to those who read what the law really says, instead of believing everything we hear on the street.
There are a few common sense solutions to problems that have taken us around and around in legal circles without ever seeming to arrive anywhere. For example, how to offer a simple prayer before a football game without putting the school superintendent in the position of Establishing a religion. It´s really very simple - Justices William O. Douglas, Potter Stewart, and Antonin Scalia have all pointed the way, and so has Justice Sandra Day O´Connor. People who don´t want to hear it don´t have to. People who want to hear it can do so, or even say "Amen" at the closing. It is not necessary to sneeze in unison for a commencement speaker to say "God bless you."
Here are the chapter headings, an outline of what is waiting for each r