Click here to read about some material that was deleted from the final version of the book.
Click here to read all sorts of miscellaneous things about the book from my old blog
Mike Newdow, the emergency room doctor and folksinger and lawyer who once successfully challenged the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, wrote and performed the theme song for Holy Hullabaloos.
buy Holy Hullabaloos Now
In the fall of 2007, I spent about six months traveling to all sorts of interesting places where big church-state Supreme Court cases came from. I wanted to visit the people who were involved in the cases and see the places where they actually happened. I went to an Amish farm, a high school football game in East Texas, the U.S. Senate, a community of really Orthodox Jews in New York State, a Santeria get-together in South Florida, and downtown Cleveland. Inspired by books like Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation, Chuck Klosterman's Killing Yourself to Live, and Steve Almond's Candyfreak, my book tells the story of this trip while also explaining the basics of church-state law and making jokes.
Holy Hullabaloos got some lovely reviews, including a starred review from Publisher's Weekly and a real nice write-up from the Boston Globe. Here are some quotes from those reviews:
The Boston Globe (Joe Rosenbloom, July 5)
"If the project [to explain church/state law to people who aren't interested in reading Supreme Court opinions] seems problematic, Wexler pulls it off stunningly in HH . . . . The tour-guide device might have bombed in a lesser writer’s hands. It works for Wexler because of his gift for filtering arcane legal sludge into clear explanations, his keen eye for detail, and his self-mocking, zanily irreverent sensibility."
The Boston Globe (Jim Concannon, June 16):
"It's not often that a reader stumbles on a funny book by a constitutional law professor and divinity school graduate. . . . But author Jay Wexler has managed the unlikely with "Holy Hullabaloos" . . . Viewing their religious practices and issues up close, Wexler humorously but candidly discusses how their cases fit into US law, and often draws his own conclusions on where the boundaries should be. In so doing, he effectively combines the legal and the everyday, bringing high concepts down to ground level, which is, after all, where people spend their lives."
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review):
"Boston University law professor Wexler is also a published humorist. This felicitous combination of talents is put to good use as he visits the towns and cities where the always controversial cases concerning separation of church and state arise. Wexler’s lucid explications of difficult constitutional concepts and the vagaries of Supreme Court rulings are superb, providing readers a deeper understanding of the First Amendment and Supreme Court jurisprudence. But that’s only half the story. Wexler is laugh-out-loud funny as he narrates his odyssey through battleground sites from rural Wisconsin through Texas to the chambers of the U.S. Senate. Along the way he happily and with a usually generous spirit skewers Supreme Court justices, legislators, educators, law school professors and pretty much anyone else, including himself, who has ever taken a position on the enduring American controversies surrounding prayer in schools, religious displays on public property, or the teaching of evolution. This is a rare treat, a combination of thoughtful analysis and quirky humor that illuminates an issue that rarely elicits a laugh—and that is central to the American body politic."
The Review of Faith and International Affairs
"Though Wexler's elucidation of church-state law offers many lessons, his sensitive treatment of religion is the real feat of the book. Wexler's sensitivity is undoubtedly influenced by his master's in religious studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School, as well as his experience as a Jewish student in a Catholic high school. Though he makes no secret of his own atheism (with a "slight Taoist bent"), he writes about religious people, beliefs, and practices with unexpected nuance and understanding. In a book that includes Santeria animal sacrifice and young-Earth creationists, depictions of religion could easily descend into caricature. Instead, they are refreshingly respectful. Such treatment is a welcome divergence from the polarizing discussions of religion and politics in recent years, when public discourse on the subject was more often marked by condescension and belligerence (think James Dobson or Christopher Hitchens). Wexler's treatment of this divisive subject is not only refreshing, but instructive: humor and geniality go a long way in diffusing tempers and inviting frank dialogue."
"Religion and its role in American society have been at the heart of some of the most controversial Supreme Court cases and many scholars have written on the subject. Wexler (Boston Univ. Sch. of Law) has managed to put a fresh spin on the topic with his irreverent and often funny look—he has written for such publications as Spy magazine in the past—at some of the most recent cases and issues in religious freedom. . . .VERDICT: His belief in the separation of church and state is obvious (he states in the introduction that he was raised a Jew but is now an atheist); his legal arguments are solid, and he is not contemptuous of religion. However, some readers are bound to be put off by his cavalier and sometimes sarcastic tone, although others will appreciate its humor. Should find many general readers."
"Law professor Wexler, himself a Jewish atheist, took advantage of a sabbatical to inspect the sites at which celebrated recent church-state Supreme Court cases originated. In plain, often wry prose, he writes, as his road-trip destinations allow, about the exercise of government power by religious institutions, religious discrimination, displaying religious symbols and imagery, legislative prayer, school prayer, funding religious schools, and religious influences on public schools. . . . An entertaining ramble that is also thoughtful, even enlightening."
Free Inquiry (August/September issue):
"Hold onto your hats, as in Holy Hullabaloos, Boston University law professor Jay Wexler takes you on an exciting ride through some of the Supreme Court's most significant church-state cases . . . Wexler is a strong church-state separationist. His book is a worthy companion for the late Robert Alley's 1999 opus The Constitution and Religion: Leading Supreme Court Cases on Church and State (Prometheus Books) . . . Wexler's book is a brisk, entertaining read."
"The idea of a religious road trip is at least as old as pilgrimages to the Holy Land in the Middle Ages. Much like one of those early pilgrims, Wexler, who teaches at the Boston University School of Law, set off on his own journey to the sites of major conflicts between the church and the state. In a book that is by turns irreverent, obnoxious, arrogant, silly, and probing, Wexler examines a number of issues related to the practice of religion and its fraught relationship with the government with which these practices must co-exist. . . . Wexler's book joins Timothy Beal's Roadside Religion in revealing the power of American religion in contemporary culture."
Salt Lake City Weekly
"If you live in Utah, you might think you’ve seen the definitive battles to identify the line between church and state. Boston University Law School professor Jay Wexler is here to tell you that you ain’t even seen the half of it . . . With humor and understanding for all sides of such deeply felt issues, Wexler tackles the tangled issues that arise in one nation under many different ideas of God.
"[E]minently readable and fascinating . . . intelligent and funny."
Evanston Public Library:
"After ten years of teaching law and religion courses, Wexler decided he wanted to write a book that explained the complex and nuanced legal arguments involving the separation of church and state. And, he reasoned, what better way to do this than a road trip to the very hotspots where the battles took place? The result is a cross-country jaunt that's part travelogue, part law for the layperson, and part humorous anecdotes and impressions. In such chapters as "Hasidic Hullabaloo" (New York state), "Amish Agitation" (Wisconsin), and "Ball-Field Brouhaha" (Texas), we are enlightened on why these cases arose, how they were argued, and the legal reasoning behind the judgments. Readers will learn, among other things, why animal sacrifice is indeed legal in Florida; why a public school district was created to service a deeply religious, homogeneous community that already had a parochial school; and what the law says about another deeply religious community that refuses to send its pre-teens to school at all. These heavyweight issues are handled with a light touch by Wexler who, I imagine, teaches his classes with a similarly wry take on things, and his lively book offers us a perfect way to grasp an ongoing and evolving debate in America today."
also...Blurbs from the Cover:
"The sharpest, the most insightful, the most side-splittlingly funny book on law since -- Supreme Courtship." -Christopher Buckley, bestselling author of Thank You for Smoking and Supreme Courtship
"I've read a lot of entertaining travelogues and informative studies of Supreme Court cases, but never at the same time. Think Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation meets Peter Irons' Courage of Their Convictions. When Jay Wexler revives the old practice of riding the circuits to visit the sites of the Court's great religion clauses cases, readers who tag along will enjoy the ride so much that they may not realize how much law they've learned along the way. Thank God for Holy Hullabaloos." --Professor Pamela Karlan, Stanford Law School
"Religion and politics are the two things we are not supposed to talk about. Jay Wexler does--with deadpan humor. We need to tone down the anger on these issues, and he shows the way." --Alan Wolfe, Professor of Political Science, and Director, Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life, Boston College
"Jay Wexler takes a fascinating and frequently funny journey through many of the sites of the greatest church and state squabbles in modern American history. He has a well tuned ear as he listens to people speak directly but also tunes in the cultural "background noise" that gives us the full picture of events. Court cases matter because real people are harmed or helped by their outcomes. Holy Hullabaloos does an admirable job of mixing constitutional theory with human experience" --Barry Lynn, Executive Director, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State