Good Reads

Books That Support Church-State Separation

Readers interested in a more in-depth examination of the issues discussed in this article may find the following books useful:

Why the Religious Right Is Wrong About Separation of Church and State by Robert Boston: This book provides an overview of church-state history and how the Supreme Court has applied the principle. Written for the general reader, it debunks leading Religious Right claims. (Promet­heus Books, 2004)

Piety & Politics by Barry W. Lynn: Written by AU’s executive director, this tome presents a minister’s arguments for church-state separation. Lynn explains why church-state separation is the best policy for believers and non-believers alike. (Random House, 2006)

James Madison on Religious Liberty by Robert S. Alley: An exhaustive collection of Madison’s writings on religious liberty, with interpretive essays. (Prometheus Books, 1985)

Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers by Brooke Allen: An excellent primer that debunks the idea that the Founders were conservative, evangelical Christians. (Ivan R. Dee, 2006)

Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History, Volume 1 by Chris Rodda: A richly detailed, well researched debunking of the Religious Right’s “Christian nation” version of history. (Self-published, 2006)

First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty by Randall Balmer: One of our nation’s leading historians of religion tells the story of the evolution of religious freedom in America in a nicely illustrated book that is designed for general audiences. (Cov­enant Communications, 2012)

In Freedom We Trust: An Atheist Guide to Religious Liberty by Edward M. and Michael E. Buckner: Don’t be fooled by the title; believers as well as non-believers will find much of value in this rousing defense of secular government. (Prometheus Books, 2012)

The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore: Kramnick and Moore argue that the Religious Right has it all wrong and provide the real story of religious lib­erty in America. (W.W. Norton, 1997)

Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter: The authors are moderate evangelicals and college professors who debunk the “Christian nation” claims made primarily by pseudo-historian David Barton. (Salem Grove Press, 2012)

Separation of Church and State: Founding Principle of Religious Liber­ty by Frank Lambert: Lambert, a Purdue University history professor, dissects Religious Right claims and ex­plains why only church-state separation can adequately defend religious freedom.

Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic by Mat­thew Stewart: Stewart examines the philosophical underpinnings of the origins of American government and finds no support for the notion of an officially Christian republic. (W.W. Norton, 2014)

The issue of prayer in schools has vexed Americans for many years, and misinformation about this issue is common. Here are three books that examine the issue in detail and set the record straight:

The Bible, the School and the Constitution: The Clash That Shaped Modern Church-State Doctrine by Steven K. Green: Green, a law professor at Willamette University College of Law, examines Nineteenth Century clashes over religion in public education and explains how these disputes shaped church-state law. (Oxford University Press, 2012)

The Battle over School Prayer: How Engel v. Vitale Changed America by Bruce J. Dierenfield: A professor of history at Canisius College, Dierenfield provides an in-depth examination of a key 1962 school prayer case, providing invaluable background for an often-distorted ruling. (University Press of Kansas, 2007)

Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle over School Prayer by Stephen D. Solomon: A lively account of the facts leading up to the Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling striking down mandatory recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and Bible reading in public schools. Solomon, a law professor at New York University, provides important background and context for this case. (University of Michigan Press, 2007)

Finally, readers interested in the life of Seventeenth Century religious liberty pioneer Roger Williams may enjoy Edwin Gaustad’s 2001 book Roger Williams: Prophet of Liberty (Oxford), which provides a short and accessible account. For a more in-depth examination of Williams and his times, try John M. Barry’s Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty (Penguin, 2012).