In August 2004, even as insurgency was stirring in Iraq, a
rebellion of a different variety was erupting in Montgomery, Ala.
The previous winter, Judge Roy Moore, chief justice of the
Alabama Supreme Court, had moved a 2-1/2-ton block of granite to the
rotunda of the Montgomery courthouse and had it inscribed with the
Ten Commandments. When ordered by federal courts to remove the
monument, the judge refused. TV cameras turned up and public
It's a debate that rages on, despite recent US Supreme Court
rulings that religious displays in public places are illegal unless
their motive is clearly secular.
Noah Feldman uses the scene at the Montgomery courthouse to set
the stage for his new book, "Divided by God: America's Church-State
Problem and What We Should Do About It."
Despite the title, this New York University law professor takes
great care to note that Americans are not divided by God, or even by
religious beliefs and affiliations. It is rather, he says, the
relationship between religion and government that confounds them at
every turn. It is an evolving equation with significant
"The stakes of that debate," he writes, "extend beyond statutes
to billions of dollars in government funding: basic moral questions
of life, death, and family; and the recurrent challenge of what it
means for Americans to belong to a nation."
To help resolve the controversy, Feldman asks readers to rethink
the relationship between church and state in the US.
But first he walks them through American history, making it clear
what a great and novel experiment was launched in the United States:
The country's founders crafted the constitutional principle of
separation not because religion wasn't important, but because it was
so very important.
"Divided by God" is an extraordinary book, carefully researched
and well-written, with a cogent, if narrowly drawn, conclusion. It
is a window on a mind - and a nation - at important work, and it is
Feldman brings strong credentials to his topic. He grew up in an
Orthodox Jewish home in Cambridge, Mass., and he attended an
Orthodox Jewish school. That helped frame his perspective.
"I always felt lucky because I had a foot in both camps. I had a
foot in religion ... and a foot in Northeastern secular liberalism,"
he told Publishers Weekly, "I always believed there was more in
common among these world views than either was prepared or able to
Feldman graduated from Harvard, earned a doctorate in Islamic
thought as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and earned a law degree from
Yale, after which he clerked at the US Fourth Circuit Court of
Appeals in Washington, DC, and the US Supreme Court.
He began teaching law at New York University two weeks before 9/
11, when his fairly obscure doctorate and fluency in Arabic made him
a hot commodity. His previous book, "After Jihad: America and the
Struggle for Islamic Democracy," was considered brilliant by many,
and in 2003, he was asked to advise the Iraqis on their
Clearly, Feldman knows his way around divisive church/state
issues here and abroad, but it is his search for commonality that
distinguishes this book. …