The First Liberty: America's Foundation in Religious Freedom
At a time when the concept of religion-based politics has taken on new and sometimes ominous tones--even within the United States--it is not only right, but also urgently necessary that William Lee Miller revisit his profound exploration of the place of religious liberty and church and state in America. For this revised edition of The First Liberty, Miller has written a pointed new introduction, discussing how religious liberty has taken on deeper dimensions in a post-9/11 world. With new material on recent Supreme Court cases involving church-state relations and a new concluding chapter on America's religious and political landscape, this volume is an eloquent and thorough interpretation of how religious faith and political freedom have blended and fused to form part of our collective history-and most importantly, how each concept must respect the boundaries of the other.
Though many claim the United States to be a "Christian Nation," Miller provides a fascinatingly vivid account of the philosophical skirmishes and political machinations that led to the "wall of separation" between church and state. That famous phrase is Jefferson's, though it does not appear in the Declaration of Independence nor in the Constitution. But Miller follows this seminal idea from three great standard-bearers of religious liberty: Jefferson, Madison, and Roger Williams. Jefferson, who wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the precursor of the First Amendment of the Constitution; James Madison, who was politically responsible for Virginia's acceptance of religious liberty and who, a few years later, helped draft the Bill of Rights; and the even earlier figure, the radical dissenter Roger Williams, who propounded the idea of religious freedom not as a rational secularist but out of a deeply held spiritual faith.
Miller re-creates the fierce and vibrant debate among the founding fathers over the means of establishing public virtue in the absence of established religion--a debate that still reverberates in today's passionate arguments about civil rights, school prayer, abortion, Christmas crèches, conscientious objection during warfare--and demonstrates how the right to hold any religious belief has dynamically shaped American political life.
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About the Author
William Lee Miller is now Scholar in Ethics and Institutions at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. He retired from the faculty of University of Virginia in 1999 as Commonwealth Professor, and the Thomas C. Sorensen Professor, of Political and Social Thought. He has taught also at Yale University, Smith College, Indiana University, and other institutions, often teaching courses in church and state and religious liberty, subjects on which he has often written. He served on the Fund for the Republics Commission on Religion and a Free Society in the 1960s. He has been an editor and writer on a political magazine, a speechwriter, and a three-term alderman. His books include Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography, and Arguing About Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the American Congress.
This is a book, filled with historical truths and imbued with generosity of spirit, that is surely worth the attention of people who care deeply about freedom of conscience.--Samuel Rabinove, Legal Director of the American Jewish Committee
Written with verve and sweep, this timely volume will reach a wide audience.--Edwin S. Gaustad, professor, University of California
This is a book of many beauties. Its grace, depth, breadth of vision, information, discrimination, sympathy, and wit fully reward the reader's patience.-- "National Review"
We are not likely to find a better mix of clear perspective, keen analysis, and happy advocacy. May Americans rediscover the meaning of their liberty in this splendid book.-- "News and Observer, Raleigh NC"
This well-written, thoughtful and fair book does much to explain why, in Mr. Miller's useful terminology, we are neither a confessing state, nor--equally important--a disbelieving one.-- "The Wall Street Journal"
William Lee Miller of the University of Virginia has written one of the finest expositions on American religious liberty to appear in modern times.-- "The Richmond News"
Speaking personally, I do not believe that any book has ever encouraged me to think more clearly, to be more patriotic and public-minded, and to be more worthy of the rights of free conscience than The First Liberty.-- "William and Mary Quarterly"
An elegant book, erudite and wry.-- "Kirkus Reviews"
The time is ripe for Miller's balanced and scholarly reminder of the central significance of religious freedom--the quintessential American liberty.-- "Booklist"
This distinguished volume on religious freedom in America is balanced, sophisticated, nuanced and delightfully readable. Professor Miller's exciting work may well be the finest book in print on church-state relations in America.--Robert F. Drinan, SJ, Georgetown University Law Center
The importance of William Lee Miller's subject can hardly be exaggerated.-- "Cleveland Plain Dealer"
Here is a scholar, raconteur and teacher busy teaching and provoking, at times almost evoking from the reader a desire to be let off the hook for a moment. Must the author be that interesting all the time? Well, Miller must.-- "Christian Century"
Miller has written with an integrity that reminds us that these ideals of our founders were not in vain. He overwhelms us with the intensity and conviction that it took to establish our religious rights, and convinces us of how essential religious liberty was to this country's self-definition.-- "San Francisco Chronicle"