Many legal theorists and judges agree on one major premise in the field of law and religion: that religion clause jurisprudence is in a state of disarray and has been for some time. In Masters of Illusion, Frank S. Ravitch provocatively contends that both hard originalism (a strict focus on the intent of the Framers) and neutrality are illusory in religion clause jurisprudence, the former because it cant live up to its promise for either side in the debate and the latter because it is simply impossible in the religion clause context. Yet these two principles have been used in almost every Supreme Court decision addressing religion clause questions. Ravitch unpacks the various principles of religion clause interpretation, drawing on contemporary debates such as school prayer and displaying the Ten Commandments on courthouses, to demonstrate that the neutrality principle does t work in a pluralistic society. When defined by large, overarching principles of equality and liberty, neutrality fails to account for differences between groups and individuals. If, however, the Court drew on a variety of principles instead of a single tion of neutrality to decide whether or t laws facilitated or discouraged religious practices, the result could be a more equitable approach to religion clause cases.
Frank S. Ravitch is Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law. He is the author of School Prayer and Discrimination, Law and Religion, A Reader: Cases, Concepts and Theory, and Employment Discrimination Law.