The Fourth R


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Conflicts Over Religion in America’s Public Schools

Joan DelFattore

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A timely and engaging story of two centuries of controversy—and sometimes violence—over prayer in America’s public schools

Contrary to popular belief, God has certainly not been kicked out of the public schools. What is banned is state-sponsored prayer, not the religious speech of the students themselves. But as news stories, political speeches, and lawsuits amply demonstrate, this approach has by no means resolved the long-standing debate over religion in public education. While some people challenge the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, with its reference to “one nation under God,” others view school shootings and the terrorism of 9/11 as evidence that organized prayer must once again become part of the official school day.

In this lively book, Joan DelFattore traces the evolution of school-prayer battles from the early 1800s, when children were beaten or expelled for refusing to read the King James Bible, to current disputes over prayer at public-school football games. Underlying these events, she shows, is a struggle to balance two of the most fundamental tenets of Americanism: majority rule and individual rights. Her highly readable book explores the enduring tension between people of good will who wish the schools to promote majoritarian beliefs, and equally well-meaning (and often religious) people who deplore any governmental influence in religious matters.

Joan DelFattore is professor of English and legal studies at the University of Delaware.

“Joan DelFattore has written a solid, sane, reasonable discussion of the perennial debate about the place of religion in public schools in the United States. It is both informative and readable, leavened with the author’s witty asides.”—Diane Ravitch, author of The Language Police

“Joan DelFattore is to be congratulated for crafting a reader-friendly, highly enjoyable book about religion in the public schools. She tells the story using a self-described ‘interdisciplinary’ approach—weaving together the historical, social and political threads along with the strictly legal ones. The book is mandatory reading for teachers, students, parents and all who are interested in the hazardous intersection of religion and government in the context of the public schools.”—J. Brent Walker, Executive Director, Baptist Joint Committee 

“It is clear the ‘culture wars’ are fought inside our public schools. The battles regarding religion are often the most contentious. This volume does a wonderful job of chronicling those battles throughout the last century. It is not the dry recitation of Supreme Court holdings but a complex treatment of historical, political, social and legal events that have had an impact on theses issues. I would recommend it to the advocate, scholar, and practitioner to inform and arm themselves for these never ending battles.”—Julie Underwood, J.D. Ph.D., General Counsel, Associate Executive Director, National School Boards Association

"A perceptive, balanced, and insightful examination of the nation’s continuing battle over religion in schools. There is much here that does not appear in judicial decisions or media reports, especially since DelFattore has taken the time to speak—and listen—to partisans on both sides. I even learned things I didn’t know about events in which I was a participant. If the book won’t end the debate—and it won’t—it should make it more informed."—Marc D. Stern, Co-Director of Legal Department, American Jewish Congress  

"The Fourth R offers a thorough and thoughtful look at the long evolution of religion in the public school. Even those who think they know this history will be surprised by the drama played out across three centuries by the courts, the Congress, and ever-expanding advocacy groups. Those who think the matter can be resolved by a ‘moment of silence’ or equal access may have cause to reassess that view in this religiously plural post-September 11th environment. A must read and important contribution to American religious and social history.”—Rev. Robert Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches

“If you think you can handle a sane and informative discussion about religion in public schools, pick up a copy of The Fourth R. Joan DelFattore, a professor of English and legal studies at the University of Delaware, recounts three centuries of conflict and brings the reader up to date on God’s place in America’s public schools.”—Rebecca Jones, American School Board Journal

“[A] quite wonderful new book. . . . It is everything a really good book should be: very readable; clear about its scope and ambitions and true to its aims; authoritative and, indeed, encyclopedic, without the latter getting in the way (it just makes one gasp at the sheer mountain of material gathered and synthesized); and it spans academic boundaries, like political science, sociology, law, theology, and the like.”—Randall P. Bezanson, Congress Monthly

“[A] thorough analysis of the historical, legal, and political debates around religious expression in public schools. DelFattore provides an overview of public conflict and judicial interventions over the past 150 years that dispels many of the myths and misconceptions that readers may have. . . . This volume will prove valuable to readers interested in religion, education, history, and the legal framework under which our public schools operate. . . . DelFattore ensures a wide audience for this well-written, well-researched, and balanced work. Recommended for all collections.”—Library Journal

“Ms. DelFattore does a superb job connecting the details of the events she covers. Her treatment of court decisions, legislative proposals, executive degrees, and the controversies that surrounded them is impressive. Her investigation, complemented by interviews with key players, leaves no stone unturned. The reader comes away with a clear understanding of the manipulations by various contestants that moved the disputes from one political arena to another, as well as a sophisticated appreciation of the complex constitutional principles at stake.”—Joseph P. Viteritti, New York Sun

“DelFattore demonstrates exactly how incendiary conflicts over prayers and Bible reading in public schools have been. . . . She traces each skirmish, siege, diversion, victory, defeat and truce with all the accompanying legal tactics, political maneuvers, war cries and philosophical justifications. . . . This is a thorough study that is a pleasure to read.”—Peter Steinfels, New York Times Education Life

“[An] accessible analysis of the history of the debate over religious speech in America’s public schools. . . . DelFattore walks readers through the ins-and-outs of this long, complex and unfinished battle with clarity, evenhandedness and even a touch of humor.”—Publishers Weekly

"The Fourth R is a well-researched and entertaining book. Joan DelFattore takes on the complex and important task of tracing the history of disputes over religion in Public Schools. Her writing style is entertaining and accessible, but this does not take away from the scholarly depth and breadth of the book. . . . I found DelFattore's ability to bring together disparate historical and legal sources into a coherent picture to be impressive. It was also a wonderful treat to read a work of scholarship that puts pretension to the side and tells a great story. . . . This is one of the best books on religion in the public schools to be published in recent years and given her wonderful style and excellent research I look forward to reading more of DelFattore's work in the future."—Frank S. Ravitch, Sociology of Religion
ISBN: 9780300102178
Publication Date: February 9, 2004
352 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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