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Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State Review by Carissa Ruiz

Tara Ross and Joseph C. Smith Jr.
Spence Publishing Company
111 Cole Street
Dallas, TX 75207

Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State is a non-fiction book about George Washington and his views on the roles that church and state should play in the U.S. Government. The authors, Tara Ross and Joseph C. Smith Jr., use Washington's own words to explain what he thought about this issue.

This book is broken into two parts. Part one explains the context in which Washington writes his letters. It gives the history of who he was writing to and why he was writing to them. Part one is separated into chapters by the different roles of his public service. For instance, one chapter covers when his was in the Virginia Regiment (1777-1758), and another chapter covers when he was President of the USA before the First Amendment (1789-1791). This section concludes with a chapter about the Jeffersonian view ("separation of church and state") and how it came to be popularized in the judicial system, thus ignoring the Founding Father's view on church and state related issues.

Part two has the whole letters and speeches given by Washington in regards to church and state matters. It is strictly George Washington's own words-no commentary. These letters cover the years 1755-1797, and are not exhaustive on the matter, but it does take up more than half the book. There is also an extensive list of notes in the back of the book.

The book is easy to understand, well-organized, includes many references, and was well researched. I can't begin to explain how enlightening this book was. It sheds light on an important subject many do not write about, yet it is something we should all know.

I was impressed in how they took a complicated topic and broke it into understandable parts. First, they set the book in a timeline to Washington's major public services. Then they put into context what he was doing, what he may have been going through, why he was writing, and to whom he was writing. As the reader progresses they get the sense of history/context of why he thought the way he did.

I was also impressed by the content they wrote about. The authors have complied just a sampling of the letters and speeches given by Washington and even those are amazingly obvious that he did not view the state and church as needing to be separated. In fact, it is obvious that he thought religion and government supported each other, as he states in his farewell address...

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great pillars of human happiness..." (p.247)

By far, I was impressed with how the writers approached this subject. Most writers have a view and it shows not through their writing, but through their reasoning, by ignoring facts or the opposing sides. These kinds of writers present their reasoning as the correct way to think (I find this in many writers, Christian and non-Christian). This was not the case with these writers. I felt that they were genuinely trying to be fair in their analysis of the subject matter. They conceded at times that no one knows for sure his stance on certain issues because he never wrote an opinion about them. At other times they would deduce what he may have thought, but always reminded the reader that they did not know for sure. This honesty was refreshing.

When I got to the chapter about the Jeffersonian view on church and state and how that one statement has become the major influence over our modern courts, I was amazed. The authors give the historical context in which that statement was written, and to whom it was given written, and why it was written to them. The book gives the results of the letter then and now-truly amazing!

When the reader buys this book, they get the added bonus of having the whole letters the authors refer to in this book, and more. I am so happy to have these great references on my bookshelf. Now, to be sure, most of the letters are not riveting and some of it is down-right hard to understand, but most of it is enlightening.

Some may wonder if they dealt with whether Washington was a Christian or not, or about his being a Mason. The authors deal with both matters very honestly and let the readers understand that the book is not about Washington's religion, but about how he thought religion and the government should interact with each other.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book, my husband enjoyed this book, and my two older kids liked it (my youngest was too young for it). Every high-school child, every political science major, every law student, every ACLU member, every seminary student, and every church member should to read this book. We have been mislead and it shows. This book helps to reveal where we got off course. Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State is worth every minute you spend reading it. I highly recommend it.

Product Review by Carissa Ruiz, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June, 2008