Balm for the Religious-Freedom Lover’s Soul

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Steven Waldman’s book helps “complainers” like me regain a sense of perspective.

We evangelicals have been complaining quite a bit lately about increasing infringements on our freedoms as people of faith. I frequently join in voicing those complaints.

My own worries tend to focus specifically on higher education. Evangelical colleges and universities benefit considerably from federally funded student loans—in many cases, three-fourths of a school’s tuition income is dependent on such resources. This pattern is seriously threatened by efforts to deny federal student loans—as well as federal funding for faculty research projects in the sciences—to schools where faculty are required to subscribe to doctrinal standards and students and employees are expected to abide by traditional Christian norms of behavior.

Similarly, on some secular university campuses these days Christian groups are being denied access to meeting spaces. The insistence that student leaders in these groups must affirm specific theological commitments is seen as incompatible with prevalent standards of free inquiry.

Reading Steven Waldman’s fine new book, Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom, has been good for my soul, in that it helps me keep the issues of religious freedom in a proper perspective. Waldman wouldn’t want people like me to stop complaining about such matters. But he does encourage us to see them in their larger historical context.

The Madisonian Model

Waldman makes it clear, for example, that things have been much worse for religious minorities in the past. By the time of the American Revolution, the Anglican clergy in the Virginia colony had seen to it that over half of the Baptist preachers there had been arrested and jailed at some point …

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