Professor Wexler goes on the road for Holy Hullabaloos
BU Law Professor and divinity school grad Jay Wexler took a six-month road trip around the country, stopping at places where the significant church-state Supreme Court cases originated. This included visits to a high school football game in East Texas (Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe), a community of Orthodox Jews in New York State (Board of Education of Kiryas Joel v. Grumet), a Santeria gathering in South Florida (Church of Lukumi Babalu Ave., Inc. v. Hialeah), and Missouri to talk to a Mennonite who was the sole living plaintiff from the Wisconsin v Yoder religious freedom case.
The trip eventually produced the highly acclaimed Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church-State Wars, released in June by Beacon Press. “My book tells the story of this trip while also explaining the basics of church-state law and making jokes,” Wexler explained on his blog. He claims inspiration from similarly thought-provoking on-the-road nonfiction such as Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation, Chuck Klosterman's Killing Yourself to Live, and Steve Almond's Candyfreak.
Before going to Stanford Law, Jay Wexler studied religion at the University of Chicago. “I’ve always been fascinated by religion, so it was natural that I would continue to be interested in the subject after studying law,” he said. “I like to think and write not only about how the law ought to treat religious beliefs and practice, but also about what role religion should play in the legal process.”
A member of the School of Law faculty since 2001, Professor Wexler teaches law and religion, administrative law, environmental law and natural resources law. Prior to BU Law, Professor Wexler clerked for Judge David Tatel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court. He also spent two years as an attorney-advisor at the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice, advising components of the Justice Department and other executive branch actors on statutory and constitutional issues.
Professor Wexler has published articles, essays and book reviews on these topics in publications such as the Georgetown Law Journal, the Vanderbilt Law Review, the George Washington Law Review, the William and Mary Law Review and the Washington University Law Review. This is his first book.
“The students really have liked it a lot,” he said of the book.. “A lot of people who took my First Amendment class last spring came to a reading last June, and they seemed to think it complements the course nicely. They said that they can hear my voice in my writing, which is a compliment. I wrote the book like I teach the class. That was my goal.”
Professor Wexler said many not connected to his class or BU also have picked up the book, including a reviewer in the fourth largest town in Alaska. “I don’t know how anyone there got hold of it,” he said. And a Minnesota Vikings fan is mad at his poking fun of the team’s record. Otherwise, Pamela Karlan at Stanford Law said, “I’ve read a lot of entertaining travelogues and informative studies of Supreme Court cases, but never at the same time… Thank God for Holy Hullabaloos.”
Professor Wexler’s humor is welcome by many of the readers who otherwise would find the subject matter a bit tedious. “There’s a debate as to whether (readers) like the humor,” he said. “It’s kind of different from any other book on this issue.”
He has no idea how many books have sold, but just for the understanding of Constitutional law alone, he said, “I wish more people would read it.”
He didn’t get to cover as much ground as he would have liked, so is there a sequel planned? “Depends. If anyone pays me to do a Part Two, I’ll do it.” In the meantime, he’s a few chapters into his next book, about “10 weird clauses” in the Constitution such as laws that bar U.S. officials from accepting a title of nobility from another country and keep the government from adopting the Metric system. It’s due spring 2011.
Other books he’s considering penning would examine a specific legal case concerning religious freedom, and one on environmental law. He intends to cover less ground, physically at least.
“I doubt I’d do another religion road trip,” he said. “It may be unhealthy to travel to Superfund sites.”
Professor Wexler said his phone has been quiet on a movie treatment of Holy Hullabaloos, but there are a few YouTube clips, including a “reading” by Walter, his five-year-old. On his website you can even listen to the book’s theme song, written and sung by Mike Newdow, the California lawyer who sued to have "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. Wexler recently spoke and signed copies of his book at the BU Barnes & Noble, as detailed in this article in the Daily Free Press or available on video.
The author is scheduled to also read at the following locations: