With religion being a pressing issue in this year’s presidential race, many are examining the role of religion in America.
But religious freedom, one of the most basic of human freedoms, was scrutinized long before this year’s presidential race by America’s Founding Fathers, who each had his own religious convictions and beliefs. Much of what they concluded and fought for still greatly impacts America today.
Randall Balmer, an award-winning historian, Emmy award nominee, Episcopal priest, and professor of American Religion, examines the fight for religious liberty in his new book, First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty.
First Freedom explains how the First Amendment has, according to Balmer, succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
“It [the First Amendment] has shielded the government from religious factionalism, and by setting up a free marketplace for religion, it has ensured a lively, salubrious religious culture in the United States that is unmatched anywhere else in the world,” Balmer says. “My own take on the matter is that the First Amendment, the separation of church and state, was, first, an utterly unprecedented configuration in the Western world. The notion that a society could be constructed without the interlocking institutions of religion and government was absolutely new.”
Balmer says religious freedom also impacts America on an economical standpoint.
“American history is littered with religious entrepreneurs, from Mother Ann Lee and Joseph Smith Jr. to Mary Baker Eddy and Malcolm X, who have sought to peddle their wares in the marketplace of American religion,” he says. “No one religious group enjoys preferred status; everyone competes on an equal footing for popular followings. This has lent an undeniably populist cast to religion in America, but the promise that the government will stay out of the religion business has ensured a lively religious marketplace.”
First Freedom will be available in bookstores and online in Oct. 2012. A companion documentary will air on PBS in December.