Book Review

The Fourth R: Conflicts Over Religion in America’s Public Schools

By Joan Delfattore

Reviewed by Brian L. Benzel
Superintendent,
Spokane Public Schools,
Spokane, Wash.

All public school administrators in America have been affected by the debate over the proper relationship of their schools or school systems and religion. In The Fourth R, Joan DelFattore documents the passion and drama that cause the role of religion in public schools to be such an important issue for American educators.

Throughout America’s history, public schools have served as the venue for great debates about how religion relates to our diverse society. The Fourth R examines the evolution of these debates and describes their impact on current educational policies related to the separation of church and state.

DelFattore, a professor of English and legal studies at the University of Delaware, chronicles the efforts of Catholic educators in the early 1800s to gain access to public funds. Early debates over the minority religion’s relationship to the majority and the mandatory use of the King James version of the Bible in public schools led to the creation of case law that still affects public schools. The actions of administrators, parents, students, politicians and others moved the debate into equal access decisions and today’s controversies over the relationship of the Ten Commandments, Pledge of Allegiance and school prayer to public education.

The Fourth R combines the passion and personalities of the arguments with the legal and historical background for the role of religion in our political and public policy processes. Well-documented legal references make this work a quality reference tool for practicing school administrators.

(The Fourth R: Conflict Over Religion in America’s Public Schools by Joan Delfattore, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 2004, 352 pp. with index, $29.95 hardcover)