Book Review: Real Threat and Mere Shadow: Religious Liberty and the First Amendment

I don’t remember when I have finished reading a book and felt like I learned as much as I learned from this incredible book. As far as I can find, Daniel Dreisbach is a little known author who has written about a half-dozen books on religious liberty and the First Amendment. I do not understand why Mr. Dreisbach is not a more acclaimed author, as his writing style is succinct, his research is exhaustive, and his conclusions are infallible.
Dreisbach himself gives an apt description of this book in the opening paragraph of his Conclusion chapter, when he writes;

“If only one conclusion emerges from this study, it should be that history can be, indeed has been, used and misused by strict separationists and nonprefentialists alike. The religion clauses are particularly susceptible prepossessions in the guise of historical interpretation. Sadly, the Supreme Court has been one of the chief abusers of the historical record.”

The book first examines the battle of intentialist versus nonintentionalist theories of judicial interpretation. The author gives sound evidence from both Jefferson and Madison, two founders’ whose views have been perverted greatly by the judiciary, in defense of the intentialist theory. Here a precedent is set for the author to follow throughout the book, where he continues to use similar instances of how history has been perverted and distorted to support the views of nonintentialists or nonpreferentialist or even strict separationists.

Much attention is given to recorded material, which has been largely overlooked or omitted by the judiciary. For example, Mr. Justice Black singled out Jefferson’s Revisal number 82 in his opinion in the famed Everson case, but failed to mention Revisals 83-85 which called for protecting the property rights of the Anglican Church (no other church was protected), a blue law bill which also called for prohibiting disturbing citizens in the peaceful expression of their religion, a bill for appointing days of public fasting and Thanksgiving, and finally a bill which called for the recognition of Biblical (Levitical) Law.

The end result, Dreisbach succeeds in soundly rebutting the views of strict separationists such as Leo Pfeffer, Hugo Black and others. This is the best book I have read on the subject of the First Amendment and religious liberty, and there have been many good volumes written. Then again, this is not a book that you can “read’ per se. This is a book that must be studied as the text makes up only half of this volume. This book has an incredibly extensive notes section and a bibliography that is unbelievable. I have already added about a dozen “must reads” to my reading list from this fine work.

I cannot recommend Dreisbach’s book highly enough. This must definitely added to the essential reading list of anyone wanting to learn more about how Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation” metaphor has been distorted and abused, and how our federal judiciary has used selective views of history to support their conclusions, rather than using all-inclusive views of history to reach their judicial decisions.

I found this little known book completely by accident. I have had on my reading list, another book by Dreisbach called Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State. I found this earlier work by Dreisbach referenced in another book and decided I should read his earlier work first. I’m truly glad that I did and will order other books by Dreisbach immediately.

Monty Rainey

About montyrainey

Public Speaker and District Manager. Mission: To empower and inspire others professionally, personally and spiritually to elevate their lives to a higher level.
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