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Posted February 9, 2012

Book: The Bible, the School, and the Constitution: The Clash that Shaped Modern Church-State Doctrine
Author: Steven K. Green
Oxford University Press. New York. 2012. pp. 289

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Few constitutional issues have been as contentious in modern times as those concerning school prayer and the public funding of religious schools. But as Steven K. Green surprisingly reveals in The Bible, the School, and the Constitution, the apogee of this debate was probably reached about one hundred and forty years ago, in the years between 1863 and 1876. As Green shows, the controversy over Bible reading in public schools captured national attention to an unprecedented degree, providing Americans with the opportunity to engage in a grand --- and sometimes not so grand --- public debate over the meaning of separation of church and state. Rarely in the nation’s history have people from such various walks of life --- Protestants and Catholics, skeptics and theocrats, nativists and immigrants, educators and politicians ---- been able to participate in a national discussion over the meaning of a constitutional principle. The debates of this period, Green shows, laid the foundation for constitutional arguments that still rage today.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Despite the ongoing public controversy over Bible reading and prayer in the nation’s public schools, the Supreme Court has not waivered from its holdings in McCollum, Engel, and Schempp that school directed or promoted religious exercises violate the Establishment Clause. In later rulings the justices struck down ‘moments of silence’ for prayer, prayers at graduation ceremonies, the teaching of creationism and the posting of the Ten Commandments in public school classrooms. As recently as 2000 the Court turned aside a practice of student-led prayers at athletic events. With the issue of public funding of religious schools, the Court’s later holdings have been less consistent, reflecting the mixed ruling in Everson which identified separation and neutrality as complementary, if not competing, principles. Throughout the 1970s and the 1980s the Court struck down most funding programs, but in the mid 1980s the justices began to distinguish between direct and indirect funding mechanisms, the latter represented by tuition vouchers. In 2002, a divided Court upheld the use of vouchers for children attending religious schools. Within the ongoing debate over the public funding of religious education, the legacy of the School Question remains dominant.

Modern church-state doctrine, regardless of its evolution in recent years, reflects the commanding impact of the events of the nineteenth century. The constitutional rationales for secular public schooling and a broader understanding of separation of church and state came together during that crucial period. During that time, non-sectarianism, which had developed as a means to preserve the Protestant character of public education and teach a common religious devotion, was transformed into a shell of its original self. That transition did not happen suddenly, but incrementally, as educators, clergy, and jurists struggled to reconcile the evolving goals of public schooling with a growing religious pluralism and emergent constitutional principles. It was the transformative era in America church-state law, the one in which America ceased to be a Republic of the Bible.

Table of Contents:

The rise of nonsectarian public education

The development of the “no-funding principle”

The Cincinnati “Bible War” of 1869-1873

“The Amendmentists”

The Blaine Amendment

The legacy of the school question