On The Road AGAIN: A Church-State Journey With An Engaging Guide.

Author:Boston, Rob
Position:BOOKS & IDEAS

Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life by Jay Wexler. Redwood Press, 189 pp.

I think it would be fun to take a road trip with Jay Wexler. But chances are slim that you're going to get an opportunity to buckle up and hit the highway next to Wexler, a professor of law at Boston University School of Law, humorist and novelist, so do the next best thing and take a vicarious ride by reading his new book, Our Non-Christian Nation: How Atheists, Satanists, Pagans, and Others Are Demanding Their Rightful Place in Public Life.

Wexler careens around the country as he explores his thesis that the U.S. Supreme Court has more or less scrapped the notion of strict separation of church and state that it embraced in the 1960s and '70s and is allowing religious groups to have increased access to public spaces, public forums, public funds and, in some cases, public schools. While Wexler would prefer strict separation, he argues that in this new legal climate, it's vital that religious minorities step up so that we don't end up with Christian groups monopolizing the public square by default.

Wexler examines several recent church-state conflicts where members of religious minority groups or non-religious groups have sought parity with Christians. Two of the cases he examines were brought by Americans United: One concerned a military widow's legal fight to get the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to allow the use of a pentacle, the symbol of Wicca, on her husband's gravestone. The second case was a challenge to mostly Christian invocations before meetings of the city council in Greece, N.Y.

AU settled the Wiccan case out of court when the VA agreed to approve the symbol, and the invocation case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Americans United lost kind of. As Wexler points out, the ruling in Greece v. Galloway upheld the prayers but also opened the door for members of minority faiths and nontheists to offer invocations before local and state legislative bodies, and many have been doing it.

This is good for pluralism and interfaith understanding, right? It is when things go smoothly, which is not always the case. Wexler writes about communities where Christians freaked out at the very thought of having to share a public microphone with Wiccans, Satanists and atheists.

In Phoenix, after word got out that two Satanists had won the right to deliver an invocation before...

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