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This book is a good read for anyone with an interest in the rule of law and the fair and just application of the law.
God vs. the Gavel, by Marci A. Hamilton
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 5,000 articles in print or online.
When you think of people who break the law and get by with it, what kind of person comes to mind? A rogue bureaucrat who can arrange an audit of anyone who opposes him? A cop on the take, who can hide some evidence and manufacture the rest? A celebrity who can buy a trial, and later write a book about it?
If so, expand your thinking a bit. The ability to break the law goes beyond individuals whom we easily recognize as seedy, scheming characters. Some people use our most cherished institutions as vehicles for such criminal activities as child abuse, murder, and theft. Those seem like strong words at first blush, but case histories show those claims are accurate.
And the courts routinely aid and abet these crimes by providing exceptional protection to those who commit them. Thanks to Constitution-violating court decisions, criminals who hide behind the mantle of religion remain free to strike again and again. At the heart of this maelstrom of magisterial malfeasance, we find the issue of church vs. state. Hamilton looks at this issue closely, and lays to rest the myths upon which courts justify their complicity with criminals who happen to represent religious organizations. Replace the myths with truths, and the entire house of cards tumbles.
The courts, in their support of religious offenders, are doing religious organizations no favor. Just look at what has happened to the Catholic church. The Catholic church continues to harbor pedophile priests, and the courts help them do it. This has diminished the church to most Catholics--many of whom are becoming ex-Catholics. Consequently, many Catholic schools are closing their doors and the treasuries of Catholic congregations are on life support.
The Catholic church isn't alone in sowing the seeds of its own destruction. Hamilton shares several examples--from several religions, including Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim--where the leaders of a religious group show complete disregard for the public good or for people outside their group. In many of these cases, the religious leaders behaved so poorly that you have to wonder if they are religious people at all. Innocent citizens then turn to their government for assistance and come away with nothing but a judicial farce.
God vs. the Gavel takes us into the world of judicial incompetence that ignores the concepts of fairness and justice. It's a place where the separation of powers isn't, but where the corruption of power is. Judges routinely misconstrue, misapply, and mislegislate from the bench. This, despite the fact they have a duty to discern the facts and are Constitutionally barred from legislating.
Hamilton isn't on a crusade against religion, religious organizations, or religious people. But she is against using religion as a license for behaving in a loveless, predatory manner that hurts and kills other people. She is opposed to using "religious freedom" as a free pass for torturing children. She is opposed to using "religious freedom" as justification for destroying entire neighborhoods. She is opposed to using "religious freedom" to justify forcing our prisons to spend millions of dollars "accommodating" dozens of different religious meal restrictions, religious reading requirements, and the demands of new "religions" formed for the express purpose of gaming the system. Buy this book for no other reason than to read the lists of lunacy on page 157 - 161, and you have spent your money well.
So, what does Hamilton want, and why does she go through such effort to show us what's wrong with the status quo? What Hamilton is asking for is a balanced approach that respects the rights of everyone. In her vision of how things should be, judges would abandon circular reasoning and twisted logic--in favor of common sense.
She explains the "do no harm" principle, and she shows us how reasonable accommodation of religion can and does work. For example, the US military changed its policy to allow soldiers to wear unobtrusive religious gear such as yarmulkes and crosses. That's very different from using "religious freedom" to sentence an innocent child to death by refusing life-saving blood transfusion. And it's very different from ignoring zoning laws so a religious meeting place transforms a quiet suburban neighborhood into a high-traffic thoroughfare.
God vs. the Gavel is more than just a fascinating expose. Hamilton also offers a vision of how things should be. People who use religion as a license to victimize others will oppose losing that license, and will thus oppose the change that Hamilton is trying to bring about. But people who, like Hamilton, see religion as bringing meaning and guidance to life will very likely agree with her.
Religious leaders who seek to be above morality and the law often claim First Amendment rights. And the courts normally comply with those leaders in knee-jerk fashion, even when no First Amendment issue is involved.
The First Amendment reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Nothing in the First Amendment gives any religion special status under the law. The First Amendment merely bars Congress from making laws against particular religions. Hamilton explains the history and reasoning behind this right. But the courts routinely ignore the Constitution, history, and reasoning--so that they can give religious organizations or their leader special status under the law. The consequences of that special status should have us all worried.
A note on the writing. I review quite a few books, and have grown disgusted with the sloppiness trend. Thus, it is now my policy to let potential readers and buyers know about the quality of the writing itself. Form is important, as it dictates readability. Fortunately, this book scored very well on substance and on form. This book actually uses Standard Written English (SWE). This is a refreshing change from the Pidgin English that so many of today's authors slop onto our reading palettes. The care taken in writing this book shows that the author and publisher actually cared about the reader. That's a huge plus.
About these reviews
You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?
I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?
And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.
This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.
My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.
A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.
About your reviewer
About reading style
No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.
Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.