by Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
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by Jack Kessler, email@example.com -- June 30, 2003
* ALA -- the American Library Association
"ALA" is the first stop, here, certainly for any librarian, US or foreign, who wants to explore these issues in any sort of comprehensive and even-handed manner. All the rest are biased... There are hundreds of websites, now -- hundreds of hundreds -- devoted to these highly emotive and highly irrational issues, many of them very well worth exploring. But all of the others which I myself have seen are too specialized, focussing on law to the exclusion of all else, or on politics ditto, or on history, or religion, or sociology. ALA has a focus too, but at least that presumably will coincide with the interests of most readers here. And all of the other sites which I have seen also are much more biased, and strenuously so, than is ALA's.
The issue is one of primary and long-established policy which is under severe attack from all quarters, now -- from both within and outside of government itself -- so that even traditionally-neutral resources, such as government or church or community websites, now take strong stands, and tend to neglect opposition viewpoints. Don't go to one extremist if you are interested in candid presentations of the other extremist's point of view... The point of view of ALA is decidedly Libertarian -- but at least, being good librarians, they point you to a few resources on each of the several sides.
Outstanding -- for his balance, and calm, on a turbulent and impassioned and at times highly unbalanced area. The introduction, to this very new book (April, 2003), offers one of the best presentations which I have seen of the state of the current controversies in the US: who is arguing with whom over what, where the issues come from, and even where they are likely to go. He follows this with thoughtful history, providing resources to the reader without urging a point of view. Lambert says in his preface that he has taught a lot of students over a lot of years, and I believe it: there is much gentle patience and understanding on these difficult issues, here.
Fun and fiery... This book offers the precise reasoning of the legalities of it all: and, as we say here in the US, of lawyers' language, this one is "written in English" -- something plainly set-out and understandable, rather than the technical code which lawyers and other specialists usually speak with one another. And Levy's language translates well: he explains clearly, argues forcefully, he is a strong Libertarian who believes passionately in the separation of church and state and is not afraid at all to tell anyone so -- nothing vague here. And his language can be fun: "the incorporation doctrine has a history so fixed that overthrowing it is as likely as bagging snarks on the roof of the Court's building" (p. 227) -- although that particular "bagging snarks" expression may defy translation...
It is worthwhile obtaining the 2d edition of this now-famous work: Levy updated it considerably, and he added answers to critics and counter-arguments and all sorts of other improvements.
Locus classicus for the general modern system of free expression civil liberties in the US: context needed for the rights involved in the church-state relationship, as argued by both sides.
Eloquently-argued -- and clearly-argued -- presentation of the case for tearing down the old distinctions and perhaps even for finding some new way of accommodating the church, in the US church-state relationship. Hamburger's position is that Jefferson's idea of a "wall of separation" was only an idea -- and that ideas, like the social aspirations or realities which they express, always can be changed... The implication being that this one now must, and the suggestion of his examples being that he himself feels a more friendly stance towards religion now is needed: a position long labeled "accommodationist", by its opponents -- such as Levy, above -- but Hamburger's is a reasonable recent example of the notion, at least, among the many such examples now available, which tend generally to be far less reasonable.
So there is no problem in finding material about these things, but great difficulty in finding objectivity. Applying Occam's Razor, then, the above resources -- four books, plus one website -- by no means are meant to be exhaustive of their subject; but, in this particular situation of "information overload", these mere five perhaps may be relied upon to pare the issues down to their minima, provide entry points to other resources, and at least acquaint their readers with the best questions, if not with the only answers.
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