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Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America's Origins to the Twenty-First Century

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Beginning his volume in the ancient and medieval worlds, Geoffrey R. Stone demonstrates how the Founding Fathers, deeply influenced by their philosophical forebears, saw traditional Christianity as an impediment to the pursuit of happiness and to the quest for human progress. Acutely aware of the need to separate politics from the divisive forces of religion, the Founding Fathers crafted a constitution that expressed the fundamental values of the Enlightenment.


Although the Second Great Awakening later came to define America through the lens of evangelical Christianity, nineteenth-century Americans continued to view sex as a matter of private concern, so much so that sexual expression and information about contraception circulated freely, abortions before “quickening” remained legal, and prosecutions for sodomy were almost nonexistent.


The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reversed such tolerance, however, as charismatic spiritual leaders and barnstorming politicians rejected the values of our nation’s founders. Spurred on by Anthony Comstock, America’s most feared enforcer of morality, new laws were enacted banning pornography, contraception, and abortion, with Comstock proposing that the word “unclean” be branded on the foreheads of homosexuals. Women increasingly lost control of their bodies, and birth control advocates, like Margaret Sanger, were imprisoned for advocating their beliefs. In this new world, abortions were for the first time relegated to dank and dangerous back rooms.


The twentieth century gradually saw the emergence of bitter divisions over issues of sexual “morality” and sexual freedom. Fiercely determined organizations and individuals on both the right and the left wrestled in the domains of politics, religion, public opinion, and the courts to win over the soul of the nation. With its stirring portrayals of Supreme Court justices, Sex and the Constitution reads like a dramatic gazette of the critical cases they decided, ranging from Griswold v. Connecticut (contraception), to Roe v. Wade (abortion), to Obergefell v. Hodges (gay marriage), with Stone providing vivid historical context to the decisions that have come to define who we are as a nation.


Now, though, after the 2016 presidential election, we seem to have taken a huge step backward, with the progress of the last half century suddenly imperiled. No one can predict the extent to which constitutional decisions safeguarding our personal freedoms might soon be eroded, but Sex and the Constitution is more vital now than ever before.

704 pages, Hardcover

First published March 21, 2017

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About the author

Geoffrey R. Stone

63 books44 followers
Geoffrey Stone is Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at The University of Chicago Law School.

Geoffrey Stone has been a member of the law faculty since 1973. From 1987 to 1993, Mr. Stone served as Dean of the Law School, and from 1993 to 2002 he served as Provost of the University of Chicago. Mr. Stone received his undergraduate degree in 1968 from the University of Pennsylvania and his law degree in 1971 from the University of Chicago Law School, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review. Mr. Stone served as a law clerk to Judge J. Skelly Wright of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and to Justice William J. Brennan Jr. of the Supreme Court of the United States. Mr. Stone was admitted to the New York Bar in 1972.

Mr. Stone teaches and writes primarily in the area of constitutional law. His most recent books are Top Secret: When Our Government Keeps Us in the Dark (2007) and War and Liberty: An American Dilemma (2007). Mr. Stone’s Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (2004) received numerous national awards, including the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for 2005, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for 2004 as the best book in the field of history, the American Political Science Association's Kammerer Award for 2005 for the best book in Political Science, the Hefner Award for the best book on the First Amendment, and Harvard University's 2005 Goldsmith Award for the best book in the field of Public Affairs.

Mr. Stone is currently chief editor of a fifteen-volume series, Inalienable Rights, which is being published by the Oxford University Press between 2006 and 2012. The authors in the series include, among others, Richard Posner, Richard Epstein, Alan Dershowitz, Larry Lessig, Martha Nussbaum, Jack Rakove, Pamela Karlan, Lee Bollinger, and Larry Tribe.

Mr. Stone is working on a new book, Sexing the Constitution, which will explore the historical evolution in western culture of the intersection of sex, religion, and law. His past works include Eternally Vigilant: Free Speech in the Modern Era (2001), The Bill of Rights in the Modern State (1992) (with Mr. Epstein and Mr. Sunstein), Constitutional Law (6th ed. 2009) (with Mr. Sunstein), and The First Amendment (3d ed. 2008) (with Mr. Sunstein). Mr. Stone also serves as an editor of the Supreme Court Review (with Mr. Hutchinson and Mr. Strauss), and he writes frequently for huffingtonpost.com and for such publications as the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal.

Among his many public activities, Mr. Stone is a member of the national Board of Directors of the American Constitution Society, a member of the National Advisory Council of the American Civil Liberties Union, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Philosophical Society, a member of the American Law Institute, a member of the Straight for Equality Project of PFLAG, and a member of the Board of the Chicago Children's Choir.

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