How America’s Schools Became the Battleground Between Church and State

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THE PROBLEM OF the place of religion in the American public
school—the “school question”—has never had a settled answer. It was a
question which the framers of the First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution had no occasion to address and, together with many other
church-state matters, left unresolved. Beginning in 1947, the Supreme
Court began to answer the school question for the nation, and the rate
and certitude of its answers increased in the 1960s and thereafter.
Regrettably, discussion of the legal significance of the school question
often begins and ends with these decisions, as if no conversation of
substance had preceded them.

In his fine book, Steven Green does his part to rectify this
misapprehension by exploring what have long seemed the dark ages of
American church-state scholarship: the nineteenth century. In measured
tones, Green shows that many of the disagreements about the school
question which we believe are contemporary culture-war phenomena had
antecedents in nineteenth-century debates and exchanges. Our own
controversies about religion and education may not be mere duplications
of the past, but they are surely part of the self-same conversation—one
which, to the chagrin of some and the delight of others, remains
stubbornly unfinished.

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