When & Where: Location: Museum of the Bible Date: December 6, 2022 Pre-Reception: 5:30-6:30PM EST Panel Discussion and Q&A: 6:30-8:00PM EST Event Summary: Over the past decade a range of elected officials, activists, and scholars have expressed alarm about the threat of “Christian nationalism.” Indeed, some sociologists argue, “Christian nationalism is an existential threat to American democracy” and the “single biggest threat to America’s religious liberty.” Is this …
An op-ed recently appeared in the The New York Times titled, “Same-Sex Marriage Is a Religious Freedom.” In it, the author advances an argument that twists freedom of religion into a license for culturally ascendant Americans to demand affirmation for their moral views and ways of life. The author, Steven Paulikas, is an Episcopal priest writing about his own “wedding” …
This article was originally published as part of a report in CQ Researcher titled, “Church and State: Is Jefferson’s Wall of Separation Eroding?“ The First Amendment begins by saying: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, interpreted these words as “building a wall of separation …
RFI Executive Vice President Eric Patterson recently authored an article for WORLD Magazine titled, “The president’s costly learning curve on foreign policy.” Patterson writes: It has now been a year since President Biden gave the disastrous order to abandon our Afghan allies to the Taliban, causing a chaotic withdrawal of Western military and humanitarian organizations. By now it is clear that Biden’s Afghan policy is not …
RFI President Tom Farr recently authored an article for Wall Street Journal titled, “American Diplomacy Abandons Religious Freedom.” Farr writes: Americans have never agreed that one religion is true and good, but we’ve accepted the Founders’ view that all people must have the freedom to exercise religion and that this freedom is so sacrosanct it deserves special protection in our Constitution. But that consensus …
Religious freedom, I believe, is a fundamental human right. Religious freedom does not matter because the Constitution protects it; instead, the Constitution (like modern human-rights law) protects it because religious freedom matters. It is not a gift from the government; it is a limit on the government. Every person, because he or she is a person, has the right to religious liberty—to embrace, or to reject, religious faith, traditions, practices, and communities. This freedom is enjoyed by, and is important to, religious believers and nonbelievers alike. Religious freedom, protected through law, helps both individuals and communities to flourish. It protects the “private” conscience and also promotes the “public,” common good. Religious or not, devout or not, we all have a stake in the religious-liberty project, and in the success of what Thomas Jefferson called our First Amendment’s “fair” and “novel” experiment.
Is it any wonder that religious Americans are growing more reluctant to be open about their faith? Increasingly, the faithful have become quiet in the public square. While the waning of free exercise of religion has been a major concern over the past 60 years, recent trends have become a cause for alarm. A lack of civic education and engagement, negative influences of social media, and the psychological and economic consequences of so-called “cancel culture” are in large part to blame.
So understood, the four American notables—Williams, Penn, Jefferson, and Roosevelt—hold that being a statesman or stateswoman and protecting religious freedom are deeply interdependent. You cannot be dedicated to good government without endeavoring to protect religious freedom, and you cannot properly protect religious freedom without good government.
This address was originally delivered on January 16, 2020, at the event Free Exercise Equality, part of the Statesmanship and Religious Freedom Seminar hosted by RFI’s Center for Religious Freedom Education.
David McCullough’s latest book, The Pioneers (Simon & Schuster), is a 2019 best-seller that has been reviewed in major publications from the New York Times to the Claremont Review of Books. What caught my attention though was McCullough’s numerous references to religious liberty.
By: Kevin Vance
The views of the American founders on religious liberty provide fertile ground for a range of different interpretations of what religious liberty protects and how religious liberty is justified. Although John Locke’s arguments for religious liberty were influential on the American founders, several founders such as John Adams and James Madison departed from or developed Locke’s arguments in a way that emphasizes how a human being’s religious obligations can limit the power of civil government.
By: John Fea
I appreciate Thomas Kidd’s remarks about the Founders’ commitment to religious liberty, and I agree with everything he has written. With this in mind, I would like to elaborate on Kidd’s remarks by bringing some sustained attention to George Washington’s view of religious freedom.
By: Marci Hamilton
Professor Kidd’s post, “The American Founding: Understanding the Connection between Religious and Civil Liberties,” makes a very important point that fears of religious oppression are born when a single religion is established. Yet, it does not, in my view, sufficiently nuance what is meant by religious “liberty.” His statement that “[a] free society had no more sacred duty than to protect religious liberty” is both an exaggeration and unsupported by history. For the Framers, it decidedly did not mean autonomy from the law or licentiousness.
By: Mark A. Noll
Thomas Kidd’s illuminating post synthesizes some of the conclusions he developed at length in his helpful book God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution . In my view he has accurately portrayed the central importance that religious liberty assumed for the American founders, especially as expressed in their ubiquitous linkage of “civil and religious liberty.”
Prof. Kidd’s reference to Isaac Backus and the Baptists does, however, complicate the history; it should also make citizens today careful about how we interpret the national founding.
By: Matthew J. Frank
Thomas Kidd has succinctly and thoughtfully restated the importance of religious liberty for America’s revolutionary founders. Even young Alexander Hamilton, just nineteen and a student at King’s College (now Columbia), “got it.” A government that threatened its people’s consciences could not be trusted in charge of their property rights, their freedom of speech and press, or any other liberties vital to a free people.
By: Thomas Kidd
In one of his first published writings, A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress (1774), nineteen-year-old Alexander Hamilton warned his fellow American colonists that, in spite of the recent furor over British taxes, those financial burdens were not what they had to fear most. Parliament had recently passed the Quebec Act, which allowed the open practice of Roman Catholicism in Canada, and extended Quebec’s borders far south into lands previously claimed by the Patriots.