So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle Over Church and State, by Forrest Church (Orlando: Harcourt, 2007, ISBN 978-0-15-1011 85-8) 530 pp. Cloth $28.00.
So Help Me God, by Larry D. Thompson (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2008, ISBN13:978-0-7653-5733-3) 465 pp. Paper $7.99.
Two books with the same title? Yes, and it’s legal. Forrest Church, editor of the excellent 2004 book The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders (Beacon Press), has produced a magisterial account of the thinking on religion and church-state relations by the United States’ first five presidents— Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. This is a powerful antidote for the theocon propaganda campaign to persuade Americans that they live in a “Christian nation” and that church-state separation is a “myth.” Larry Thompson’s book is a savvy courtroom drama about a Texas televangelist’s effort to overturn Roe v. Wade and shut down abortion clinics. It’s a thriller in which the good guys win, but it falls short of its promise to refute in a fictional court the core arguments of the antichoice forces.
The Court and the Cross: The Religious Right’s Crusade to Reshape the Supreme Court, by Frederick S. Lane (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008, ISBN 978- 0-8070-4424-7) 263 pp. Cloth $24.95.
Legal journalist Lane examines in depth the theocon threats to church-state separation. He shows that the U.S. Supreme Court is the religious Right’s Holy Grail, the key to overturning Everson, McCollum, Lemon, Roe v. Wade, and the other rulings that so far have blocked their efforts to get into the public treasury big time, to restrict freedom of conscience regarding sex and reproduction, and to turn the calendar back to the Middle Ages. Lane’s thorough knowledge of the law and Supreme Court rulings allows him to deal thoroughly and authoritatively with the endless controversies over school vouchers, school prayer, “charitable choice,” reproductive choice, and other issues. It goes without saying that this fall’s election will determine the future of the Supreme Court and our treasured principle of church-state separation.
Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, by Leon J. Podles (Baltimore: Crossland Press, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-0- 9790279-9-4) 675 pp. Cloth $22.95.
Former federal investigator and conservative Catholic Leon Podles makes an important contribution to the growing literature on the clergy sex-abuse scandals, adding to what has already been published by Doyle, Sipe, and Wall in Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: the Catholic Church’s 2,000-Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse (2006); Frawley-O’Dea in Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church; and American, Spanish, Mexican, Irish, and other authorities. Podles and the other writers make abundantly clear that the scandals have adversely affected many thousands of children and adolescents of both sexes and that church officials have been far more concerned with cover-ups than with helping the victims or halting the abuse. Podles also explores the psychodynamics of the abusers. In the last half-dozen years in the United States alone, the scandals have cost the church and its insurers at least $2.5 billion, a matter that seems related to the church’s and some politicians’ interest in getting tax support for some of the church’s institutions.
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights: Neither Religious nor Civil (Washington: Catholics for Choice, 2008, ISBN 0-915365-86-3) 25 pp. Paper $10.00 (or free online at www. catholicsforchoice.org).
The Catholic League is a Religious Right organization dedicated to attacking anything real or imagined that is even slightly critical of Catholic Church officialdom or its interests. This important exposé is part of CFC’s “investigative series on those who oppose women’s rights and reproductive health.” League president William Donohue is an aggressive bully who tries to intimidate critics of hierarchy policy, including Catholic politicians and Catholic organizations like CFC.
Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America, by Eric Alterman (New York: Viking, 2008, ISBN 978-0-670-01860-4) 402 pp. Cloth $24.95.
Journalism professor, author, and Nation columnist Alterman defines “liberalism” in a way that closely resembles the life philosophy found in Humanist Manifesto II. His new book is an encyclopedic refutation of the propaganda mud regularly dumped on liberals by conservatives and the ubiquitous conservative print and broadcast media. It is also a useful exposé of the hypocrisy, truth bending, and manipulation of the religious and secular Right. Alterman concludes that after too many years in the conservative wilderness, most Americans, who “are indeed liberals,” are “ready to hear the message of hardheaded hope once again.”