John Blakeman’s The Bible in the Park is an in-depth study of federal district court policymaking and litigation trends in First Amendment cases concerning religious speech and expression in public places. District courts play an important policymaking role in the federal judicial system, and Blakeman’s book contributes to our understanding of that role, especially in the context of religious liberty and free speech disputes. As the courts of first instance in the federal judicial system, district courts are charged with interpreting and applying First Amendment law at the trial level.
I wish I had written this book! John Blakeman’s The Bible in the Park combines legal scholarship with the empirical methods of social science, and enables us to understand some major issues of First Amendment law in their political context. Blakeman explores the delicate intersection between the Establishment Clause law and First Amendment rights to political speech in public places. By focusing on cases decided by federal district courts, he turns our attention away from doctrines and principles eminating from appellate courts, and to the concrete and very local situations in which these controversies arise. His careful attention to data about who brings cases, against whom they are brought, the venues of conflict, and the role of judges taught me a great deal about law, politics and religion in the United States, and will change the way I teach these topics in the future. The Bible in the Park reminds us that constitutional issues are born not in Supreme Court reports, but in the decisions of local religious activists, administrators, judges, and community actors. It should be a model of what law and the social sciences can teach us if we look at them together.
—Bette Novit Evans, associate professor of political science, Creighton University