A few weeks ago, a friend of mine in Religious Studies returned from a conference at a major law school with this report: “Not all, but the majority of presenters agreed that Christians should be marginalized and have their freedom of speech and religion severely restricted because of how hateful their beliefs about sin are and the dignitary harm these beliefs cause others. Am I just young and naive and in reality nothing will come of this, or is it a truly scary reality that leading law professors are saying this?”
I don’t know whether my friend will be reassured or further discouraged if he reads The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom, but he will discover one leading scholar in the field who shares his alarm and addresses the matter with purpose and equanimity. Steven D. Smith, Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of San Diego, has composed an essay rather than a treatise or a legal brief, an attempt to get partisans on both sides of the culture wars to see today’s disputes concerning politics and religion in historical perspective. Writing as a man of soft-spoken faith, he aims to begin a conversation, not avoid one, although he is surely aware that those who won’t listen are difficult to persuade.