Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 21:0 (NA 1989)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous


Book Reviews

Robert L. Cord, Separation of Church and State: Historical Fact and Current Fiction, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 302 pp. n.p., 1988

Robert Cord is Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University and noted scholar of the First Amendment of United States’ Constitution. The amendment states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (page 302).

It is this first article of the Bill of Rights and its subsequent interpretation that Cord treats in his book.

Baker Book House has taken Cord’s 1982 book Separation of Church and State and reprinted it. As nearly as I can determine, this reprint is nearly the same as the 1982 version. With the exception of a small print notice on the book’s copyright page, there is no other mention of previous publication. The reason behind this omission makes for interesting speculation, but is outside the parameters of our immediate concern.

Cord’s contention, making this the book’s only essential claim, is that the first amendment has been historically misinterpreted by the nation’s courts and its legal scholars. Further, the legal application derived from such misinterpretations runs counter to the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, especially James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Cord’s argument rests upon what he sees as the historic misunderstanding of the “establishment” clause. He argues that neither Madison nor Jefferson intended to build a wall of absolute separation between the state and religion. Cord believes the complete secularization of the state was never the framer’s intention.

Instead, as Cord argues forcefully, the founding framers wanted to ensure that no state religion or individual religious group would be given special status through federal statutes. England and the history of Anglicanism give must common-sense support to Cord’s argument.

If Cord’s view is correct, then 210 years or so of Constitutional law have been founded on a false premise. That is, the underlying assumption, that the framers wanted a strict separation between the state and religion/church, is a false assumption. The framers, according to this view, only wanted for no one group or sect to receive an advantage from the perspective of the national government and its laws. Thus, the states could decide this question themselves, regardless of how the national laws were interpreted. For all practical purposes

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