Major treatise on religious liberty published online in the USA

By staff writers
May 12, 2009

The First Amendment Center in the USA has placed online the once unavailable five-volume treatise of the late Rev Dean M. Kelley, the internationally known National Council of Churches USA executive for religious liberty.

The Law of Church and State in America has been described as "a 20-year research masterpiece" which was completed by Kelley but left unpublished after his death. It will be invaluable to all students of religion and modernity, not just in the United States but worldwide - dealing as it does, with key issues of religion, state and civil society.

When Dean M. Kelley died on 11 May 1997, the loss was devastating for proponents of religious liberty. Kelley, who served as Executive for Religious Liberty of the National Council of Churches USA (NCCUSA) from 1960 to 1990, was a nationally recognized expert in the field and had defended the rights of such diverse groups as the Unification Church, Taos Pueblo Indians, the Church of Scientology, Old Order Amish, Christian Scientists, Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims and mainline Protestants.

"When Dean Kelley died, an enormous amount of knowledge and experience died with him," said Wesley M. "Pat" Pattillo, the NCCUSA's Senior Programme Director for Justice and Advocacy and Communication. "Now, a remarkable publishing venture will make much of that knowledge accessible again for all religious groups working their way through First Amendment issues and church-state controversies."

Among the intellectual treasures lost when Kelley died was a five-volume treatise on religious liberty in the USA that he had been working on for 20 years when he fell ill with cancer. Kelley completed the writing before he died, but the publisher abandoned the project when the task of updating developments in state law for inclusion in the book became overwhelming.

Now, in a collaborative venture with the NCCUSA's Committee on Religious Liberty, the First Amendment Center has made Kelley's five-volume The Law of Church and State in America available online.

“The opportunity for online publication rescued a masterpiece from oblivion,” write the members of the manuscript committee, who brought Kelley’s work to its present form. Lenore Hervey, Kelley’s only child and the copyright holder, agreed to make the work freely available for online use. The First Amendment Center agreed to make the work available on its site. The book’s chapters are posted as PDFs.

"Kelley's work at the Council was extraordinary and historic," said the Rev Dr Michael Kinnamon, NCCUSA General Secretary. "Thanks to the First Amendment Center, this once-lost work is now available to a new generation of people who value their freedom to practice their religion as they are led by their faith and intellect."

“As the long-time director of civil and religious liberty at the National Council of Churches of Christ, the Rev Dean Kelley was one of the most effective advocates for religious freedom of his era,” said Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center, a project of the Washington-based Freedom Forum, which also operates the Newseum, a major exposition center on Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation's capital. “This monumental work on the law of church and state reflects both his deep knowledge of the issues and his extraordinary ability to provide a lively, informed account of case law central to understanding the relationship between religion and government in America.”

Kelley’s book covers a range of topics. In the author’s own words: “This work is organized under five broad themes: (1) the autonomy interests of religious bodies; (2) the outreach activities of religious bodies; (3) the inculcation of the faith by religious bodies; (4) the practice of the faith by the faithful in the ‘world’ (issues of ‘conscience’); and (5) state efforts to shelter, sponsor or protect religion — not always justifiable — and attempts to define what entities or activities are entitled to that treatment."

Kelly continued: “The work of the courts within these areas is analyzed and evaluated according to my understanding of what the Founders’ radical ‘institutional invention’ — of the disengagement of religion from governmental authority — requires and how it has worked out in application (or sometimes misapplication). Extensive excerpts from important court opinions — federal and state — allow the readers to judge for themselves the persuasiveness of judicial reasoning.”

The NCCUSA Committee on Religious Liberty assigned the year-long publishing task to a manuscript committee, chaired by Sharon Worthing Vaino, a member of the editorial council of the Journal of Church and State. Members included Hervey and Haynes as well as Richard Foltin, American Jewish Committee; the Rev N. J. (Skip) L’Heureux Jr., Queens Federation of Churches; Wesley (Pat) Pattillo, National Council of Churches; and the Rev Charles M. Whelan, Fordham University School of Law.

You can read the whole work here:

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