- The Church-State Debate. Religion, Education and the Establishment Clause in Post-War America by Emma Long
The Church-State Debate has two purposes: first, to look at the role of the Supreme Court in major church-state issues after World War II and second, to analyze the court’s decisions through the lens of educational jurisprudence. To accomplish this task, the author used a research design that categorized rulings in terms of strict separation, neutrality, and accommodation. Where that did not suffice to explain the evolving and often inconsistent rationale of the court on educational decisions, she included political science approaches as well. Therefore, she also used legal interpretations based on constitutional principles, attitudinal measurements that identified judicial blocs among the justices, and empirical data to explain the pragmatism of the decisions of the postwar Supreme Court in America.
After all is said and done, Emma Long emerges as the synthesizer-in-chief of the historical, legal, and political reasons as to why jurisprudence on church-state education matters developed as they did over the past fifty years. Indeed, she says: “The job of the historian … is not that of a lawyer, and thus the context remains important” [End Page 808] (p. 205). Certainly, this is what sets her well-researched and coherent work apart from others in the same area.
Three main aspects of church-state debate were explored in this book: government aid to students in nonpublic schools, the issue of school prayer, and the problem of equality of access to government benefits. The book took a comprehensive view of the debate over public aid to students in parochial, private, and public schools starting with Everson v. U. S. Board of Education and explaining the evolution of educational jurisprudence based on child-benefit theory. With regard to school prayer, Long discussed the significance of major decisions starting with Engle v. Vitale and Abington v. Schempp, clarifying for the reader how religious forces were able to shift the focus of concern from prayer in schools to the need to advance direct educational benefits to students. The court also heard a number of major cases wthat challenged the right of religious groups to have equal access to limited public forums. Long makes a difficult situation easier to understand by explaining the nuances of Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free School District and Rosenberger v. the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. In these cases the Supreme Court upheld the students’ rights to free speech and equal access. She ends her book believing that, in its own way, the decision of the court in Rosenberger was the end of a contentious era between church and state over education in America.
This book, of necessity, had to limit the cases that could be presented in American church-state relations. By focusing on education, The Church-State Debate is a significant attempt to show the evolution of such jurisprudence and to track the ideological swings of the Supreme Court over the years. Although there is little here that is new, its organization and dense historical, legal, and political approach makes sense out of what can appear to be an inconsistent, rather than evolutionary, development of public policy in America.
Perhaps Long will be able to look into other aspects of the church-state debate in the future. In the meantime, this volume is highly recommended.