The Spirit of the Law - A Book Review Example

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Wesleyan University
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Book review
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The spirit of the law book tends to give information concerning the history and as well as the legal analysis on the role that was played by the religious actors towards the development of the interpretation of the clauses of religion in the U.S. Sarah Barringer in this book tells the story of various individuals. The individuals were believers as well as movements and how they were engaged with the legal system. Sarah uses these people to help her to be able to identify and as well as describe the change that occurs between religion, law, and also the courts. The Spirit of the Law book tends to show the tensions. The fault lines, and as well as the pitfalls that existed. Barringer Gordon uses the historical descriptions and also legal issues that were crucial to show the importance of religion in the lives of the Americans and also its importance to the legal sector of the United States.

The book looks into some of the cases that were dealt with in the Supreme Court during the new constitutional world. It was during the period of the post-Everson. According to Sarah, there are five distinct groups and people who are interwoven and have helped in the shaping of the constitutional law of religion. In the American history, there are three different constitutional landscapes which are seen in the trajectory of United States religious history (p.5).The first period which covered up to the middle of the nineteenth century. This period was mainly about the religious and legal struggles. It was happening in the state and also local levels whereby campaigns were used in the aim of disestablishment and staking out the bounds in America concerning the liberty of religion (p.6).During the second period, Sarah talks about the stories of the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and the Salvation Army. The heroes from the Salvation Army ministered most of the times and cast adrift by other organizations that were religious. The Jehovah witnesses rebuked what they considered to be state-sponsored idolatry. It was mostly after the period of the disestablishment of the last state until the time of the promulgation of Everson. The notion that Christianity formed part of common law led to morals being established whereby laws and other measures that were meant for social reforms were undergirded. The attempt of the state to address issues regarding religion in a monopolistic manner was possible due to the creativity and as well as the persistence of the believers who wanted liberty in the Clauses of religion. Religious activities during this period could seek some protection of the Constitution. Some of the restrictions that were imposed were infuriating the believers since the constitution language in the religion clause was meant to prevent such injustices (p.8).

In the book of Sarah Gordons, most of the activism tends to take place in the third landscape which is mainly about the new constitution world. The religious activists helped in the creation of a constitution which was able to handle the claims that were brought forward regarding faith and spiritual practice rather than only the rights of personal liberty and political participation (pp 3,213).The people who came up with the third constitutional landscape were able to find out that cooperation that was experienced across the traditions of faith in an attempt to attack one another and the building of alliance resulted to stronger bonds within and toleration from without. According to Sarah when the Americans do the religion in law they tend to understand themselves as having rights that are sacred and recognizing what other people are doing (p.216).Within the new constitutional world issues such as mandatory prayers in public schools and also state aid to parochial was considered as flash points which were religious legal.

The spirit of the law book tends to emphasize that the new constitutional landscape is a contested terrain always. For example, according to Justice Felix Frankfurter its only a state that is theocratic that measures the validity of secular laws regarding their conformity to the doctrine of religion. It was a case that was involving a Jehovah witness that was of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943).According to him in the could inevitably sacrifice the law to define what is a religion for the constitution( p.46).

The Spirit of the law emphasizes about the activism that was inspired by the religious faith and also expressed through popular constitutionalism did not move in any direction. The general themes are full of tension and ironies. The intolerance of Jehovah witnesses is for example overlapped by the spirit of religion that seemed to affect them as well. They did not expect to encounter other religious organization s who would term the same sex relationships as being holy (p.168).The book tends to judge various generations of different religious practices and also constitutional advocacy to be of great value to the entire United States. The citizens of the world of the new constitution benefited from the religious faith practice. (p.212).A moral voice that was advocating for a secular cause and its initial argument was that civil marriage should be made open to everyone. In 2004 RCFM started to argue using terms that were considered to be more religious and to them, any constitutional amendment would be regarded as a violation of their religious rights if a couple of the same sex would be denied the rights of civil marriage.

Sarah Gordons acknowledges the fear of the religious activists who tend to worry much more about the legal technicians and resulting to the backward of the modern constitutional land scape. Taking it from the perspective of the new constitution, the court took an enormous doctrinal step backward. This was while they were deciding the case of Employment Division v. Smith (1990).According to Sarah laws that were neutral regarding religion and were uniformly applied, under the free exercise clause did not raise constitutional issues. There in the above case, the court could have allowed the religion law to be regulated in favor of the flexibility and efficiency of the government. This gave the signs of that the world that had led the believers to the law and the law to the believers could be sabotaged (p.209).

Sarah Barringer does not only draw on the technical decisions of the court but as well as on her understanding of the Constitution by recounting the religious clause battles of the past centuries. The structure that is used in the book of The Spirit of the Law tends to show that the period of religious influence that is strong in the American culture may be over though temporarily. The last chapter of the book is mostly about Christians and the non-Christians groups who are theologically liberal.


Gordon, S. B. (2010). The spirit of the law: Religious voices ant the constitution in modern America. Cambridge (Massachusetts) etc.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

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