Throughout our history, Americans have been a highly religious people. Indeed, many of the original colonists came to the New World specifically to escape religious persecution. And though somewhat less devout than we once were, the United States still leads the developed world in religiosity. Today, however, many feel that religious freedom is under serious—perhaps unprecedented—threat. With everything from health-insurance mandates, to the censoring of high school graduation speeches, to punishing vendors who refuse to work gay weddings, religious liberty seems to be increasingly curbed by powerful and intrusive government.
What should we do when a law or government action, often not intended to inhibit religious exercise, nevertheless does? How much of a connection between church and state is “too much,” such that it infringes on the rights of nonbelievers? How can we maximize harmony between religious and nonreligious Americans? In June 2016, the Cato Institute’s Protecting Religious Liberties conference sought to answer those questions. The conference speakers addressed the history and philosophy of religious freedom, religious freedom and education, and current controversies over religious freedom and public accommodations. This volume contains essays adapted from presentations and discussions at the conference, as well as new introductory and concluding essays.
Trevor Burrus is a research fellow in the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies and managing editor of the Cato Supreme Court Review. His research interests include constitutional law, civil and criminal law, legal and political philosophy, and legal history. He is also the co-host of Free Thoughts, a weekly podcast that covers topics in libertarian theory, history, and philosophy.
David McDonald is a legal associate in the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. During law school, he interned for the New York State Supreme Court’s Commercial Division and clerked for the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm in Arlington, Virginia. McDonald holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School, where he served as an articles editor for the Columbia Business Law Review. He holds a B.A. in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles.