To An Unknown God: Religious Freedom On Trial

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9780312262396: To An Unknown God: Religious Freedom On Trial
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Told with the grace of a novel, To an Unknown God: Religious Freedom on Trial is a modern legal epic chronicling the six-year duel between two remarkable men with very different visions of religious freedom and of America.

Neither man sought the conflict that would erupt into one of the most provocative and influential Supreme Court decisions. Al Smith, a nationally known counselor to Native people suffering from alcohol and drug abuse, wanted only to earn a living. Dave Frohnmayer, the Harvard-trained Attorney General of Oregon, was planning his campaign for governor and tending to his three desperately ill daughters. But a series of miscalculations transformed a routine unemployment dispute into a constitutional confrontation.

Before it was over, Frohnmayer and Smith would twice ask the United States Supreme Court to decide whether the First Amendment protects the right of Native Americans and others to seek God with the use of peyote, a form of worship some scholars believe to be more than ten thousand years old. And the Court would finally answer no; it would say, for the first time in the history of the Constitution, that the Bill of Rights provided no protection for obscure and minority religions if the legislature chose not to recognize their needs.

The Court's decision produced a fierce backlash from religious leaders and ordinary citizens, culminating in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993), one of the most sweeping civil-rights statutes of the past thirty years. Now that the Court has invalidated the Act, some say it will lead to a constitutional amendment and a radical change in the American law of church and state.

In the tradition of A Civil Action and Gideon's Trumpet, Garrett Epps tracks the case from the humblest hearing room to the Supreme Court Chamber, skillfully building the suspense and tension that are so much a part of litigating a great case. Expertly weaving together a fascinating legal narrative with dramatic personal stories, To an Unknown God is a riveting look at how justice works-- and doesn't work-- in America today.

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To an Unknown God: Religious Freedom on Trial is the story of one of the most important Supreme Court cases of recent years involving religious freedom--the case that resulted in the passage of one of the most sweeping civil rights laws since the 1960s, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Author Garrett Epps writes with the simplicity and suspense of an investigative journalist (he was formerly a reporter for The Washington Post) and the precision and authority of a legal scholar (he teaches law at the University of Oregon). Both skills are necessary for bringing to life this strange and complicated tale, in which a routine unemployment dispute grew into a showdown regarding the right of Native Americans to worship God with the use of peyote. In addition to the book's deft analysis of the many legal questions the case raises, To an Unknown God describes a cast of memorable and intriguing characters, principal among them Al Smith, a 70-year-old drug-and-alcohol abuse counselor to Native Americans, and Dave Frohnmayer, a Harvard-educated politico who balanced his prosecution of this case with his commitment to caring for three children with a rare bone disease. Like A Civil Action and other classics of investigative journalism, To an Unknown God examines questions that arise in peculiar circumstances, and frames them with such skill and sensitivity as to make their universal relevance unquestionable. --Michael Joseph Gross

From the Inside Flap:

A PROVOCATIVE LOOK AT THE INTENSE LEGAL AND PERSONAL DRAMA SURROUNDING THE SUPREME COURT'S CONTROVERSIAL DECISION THAT REWROTE THE LAW GOVERNING THE "FREE EXERCISE" OF RELIGION.

Told with the grace of a novel, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ON TRIAL is a modern legal epic chronicling the six-year duel between two remarkable men with very different visions of religious freedom and of America. Neither man sought the conflict that would erupt into one of the most provocative and influential Supreme Court decisions. Al Smith, a nationally known counselor to Native people suffering from alcohol and drug abuse, wanted only to earn a living. Dave Frohnmayer, the Harvard-trained Attorney General of Oregon, was planning his campaign for governor and tending to his three desperately ill daughters. But a series of miscalculations transformed a routine unemployment dispute into a constitutional confrontation.

Before it was over, Frohnmayer and Smith would twice ask the United States Supreme Court to decide whether the First Amendment protects the right of Native Americans and others to seek God with the use of peyote, a form of worship some scholars believe to be more than ten thousand years old. And the Court would finally answer no; it would say, for the first time in the history of the Constitution, that the Bill of Rights provided no protection for obscure and minority religions if the legislature chose not to recognize their needs.

The Court's decision produced a fierce backlash from religious leaders and ordinary citizens, culminating in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993), one of the most sweeping civil-rights statutes of the past thirty years. Now that the Court has invalidated the Act, some say it will lead to a constitutional amendment and a radical change in the American law of church and state.

In the tradition of A CIVIL ACTION and GIDEON'S TRUMPET, Garrett Epps tracks the case from the humblest hearing room to the Supreme Court Chamber, skillfully building the suspense and tension that are so much a part of litigating a great case. Expertly weaving together a fascinating legal narrative with dramatic personal stories, To an Unknown God is a riveting look at how justice works--and doesn't work--in America today.

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