Part of the story here is that religious liberty is created by some degree of separating church and state, or separating religion and politics. And yet the founders were not so committed to that, or didn’t have an understanding of such a separation, that it meant a complete and utter separation of anything religious and anything political, which in some quarters of the world appears to be how the founders are interpreted on that front.
So I think there’s a lot that needs to be reflected on by all parties, whether you’re inclined to see the founders as religious and be more favorably disposed to a religious republic, or if you’re more inclined to see the founders as secular and favor a more secularized republic. I think both camps might be surprised if they burrow into the facts and the historical details of what the founders really thought and believed.
In recent months, evangelical pastor Rick Warren and the Alabama attorney general (Luther Strange) have both said that religious liberty will be the civil rights issue of the next decade. Bishops of the Catholic Church have expressed a similar sentiment in some of their statements. What is your perspective on that?
I’m quite sympathetic to that view. I think that moving forward, the ability to express oneself and one’s religious beliefs and convictions will have to be watched and will increasingly come in conflict with other legal and jurisprudential trends in the country. Therefore, I do think it will emerge as a critical — and perhaps the critical — civil rights issue moving forward.
It’s always impossible to say exactly how things will unfold, but I think it’s certainly a candidate to be right at the top of a number of issues that may be considered key civil rights considerations.
What role did you play in the documentary and how did it come about?
The idea for the documentary was germinating just at a time that a book of mine was published called “Bonds of Affection: Civic Charity and the Making of America,” which was about some of the early religious influences on some of the key founding figures of America.
I think it was attention surrounding that book that caught the attention of the documentary makers, and they reached out and said, “Would you let us interview you for this project?” Given the nature of the project, I was happy to accept.
For additional news coverage of the documentary "First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty", see the following:
David Ward is a writer living in Salt Lake City. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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