Title: Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem - and What We Should Do About It
Author: Noah Feldman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Attempts to address church/state problems from a new perspective and with new solutions
Simplistic, superficial analysis of the arguments in the current debates
So-called solutions would solve nothing, create new problems
Analysis of the history of church/state relations in America
Describes the debates over the separation of church and state today
Suggests solutions in an effort to further the cause of national unity
The current battle lines have become hardened, so if there if any solution is possible, it will probably require thinking outside the box and producing genuinely new ideas. Thats the goal of Noah Feldmans *Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem.
Feldmans project is defined by the idea the Americans are divided over religion and his simplistic analysis is that there are just two sides: values evangelicals who promote a set of religious values which they believe should be adopted by everyone and endorsed by the government; and legal secularists who believe that the state should remain secular, which is to say neutral on matters of religion neither endorsing nor denying any particular religious doctrines.
Feldman argues that he doesnt really agree with either side and most of the book is spent critiquing both sides positions. Against the values evangelicals, he argues that Americas founders didnt share their religious beliefs and never intended the government to endorse their religion. Against the secularists, he argues that Americas founders were not themselves secularists and intended the separation of church and state to primarily protect religion rather than the state.
Throughout this, Feldman has some good points to make. Everyone sees in Americas founders what they want to see, people who look far too much like people today rather than people of the 18th century.Feldman's solution, however, is as flawed as it is interesting, mistaken as it is bold.
Feldman accurately points out that in the past, people were more concerned with keeping government money out of religion rather than religious symbols out of government; today, though, lots of government money flows to religious groups while religious symbols are being removed. He suggests that we reverse course: stop worrying about religious symbols in government but more strictly enforce bans on preventing government money from going to religious groups.
The problems with this are numerous. First, modern government is more expansive than it was in the early 20th century, much less the 18th century, so its hard to see how to keep government money from going to things like literacy programs run by religious organizations and Feldman offers no solutions on how to do this. Is it legitimate to provide fire and police protections to churches under Feldmans proposal? No clear answers are provided.
Second, religious symbols in government are not free the government will have some costs, even if small, in maintaining them. Allowing such symbols discriminates in favor of those religions which are symbol-heavy and against those in which symbols play little role.
Symbols matter to religious people they are often much more than just symbols, yet Feldman doesnt seem to recognize this.
Upon what basis will the government even be able to decide which symbols to include and which not to? If we abandon the principle that laws must have a secular purpose, upon what basis can we keep the government from endorsing one religion over others in laws, school curriculums, etc.? How is religion being protected by the separation of church and state when some religions are actively disfavored by the state?
Third, how will we reduce religious conflict by allowing the state to get involved in religion? The state will not be able to avoid favoring some religions over others, some religious beliefs over others, and this will inevitably lead to some religious beliefs having their status increased while others will feel slighted because their relative status has decreased. Social status matters to people, especially *relative status. Why should the government cause problems by making religion a subject of social status?