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Sacred Liberty
Cover of Sacred Liberty
Sacred Liberty
America's Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom
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Sacred Liberty offers a dramatic, sweeping survey of how America built a unique model of religious freedom, perhaps the nation's "greatest invention." Steven Waldman, the bestselling author of Founding Faith, shows how early ideas about religious liberty were tested and refined amidst the brutal persecution of Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, Quakers, African slaves, Native Americans, Muslims, Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses. American leaders drove religious freedom forward—figures like James Madison, George Washington, the World War II presidents (Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower) and even George W. Bush. But the biggest heroes were the regular Americans – people like Mary Dyer, Marie Barnett and W.D. Mohammed — who risked their lives or reputations by demanding to practice their faiths freely.

Just as the documentary Eyes on the Prize captured the rich drama of the civil rights movement, Sacred Liberty brings to life the remarkable story of how America became one of the few nations in world history that has religious freedom, diversity and high levels of piety at the same time. Finally, Sacred Liberty provides a roadmap for how, in the face of modern threats to religious freedom, this great achievement can be preserved.

Sacred Liberty offers a dramatic, sweeping survey of how America built a unique model of religious freedom, perhaps the nation's "greatest invention." Steven Waldman, the bestselling author of Founding Faith, shows how early ideas about religious liberty were tested and refined amidst the brutal persecution of Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, Quakers, African slaves, Native Americans, Muslims, Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses. American leaders drove religious freedom forward—figures like James Madison, George Washington, the World War II presidents (Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower) and even George W. Bush. But the biggest heroes were the regular Americans – people like Mary Dyer, Marie Barnett and W.D. Mohammed — who risked their lives or reputations by demanding to practice their faiths freely.

Just as the documentary Eyes on the Prize captured the rich drama of the civil rights movement, Sacred Liberty brings to life the remarkable story of how America became one of the few nations in world history that has religious freedom, diversity and high levels of piety at the same time. Finally, Sacred Liberty provides a roadmap for how, in the face of modern threats to religious freedom, this great achievement can be preserved.

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About the Author-
  • STEVEN WALDMAN is the national bestselling author of Founding Faith and the co-founder of Beliefnet, the award-winning multifaith website. He is now co-founder and President of Report for America, a national service program that places talented journalists into local newsrooms. His writings have also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, National Review, Christianity Today, The Atlantic, First Things, The Washington Monthly, Slate, The New Republic and others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Amy Cunningham.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 11, 2019
    Waldman (Founding Faith), founder of multifaith website Beliefnet, offers a fine overview of the growth of religious freedom in the United States. While the framers of the U.S. Constitution debated the place of religious freedom, it was James Madison, Waldman writes, who championed the separation of church and state and, in particular, the idea that states could not establish an official faith. Waldman details how Native Americans, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jews later looked to Madison’s ideas in order to argue for equal treatment. It was not until after WWII that religious freedoms taken for granted today were established as the result of pressure placed on the political (particularly from Catholic groups, who organized diverse coalitions into voting blocks) and legal systems (including 23 Jehovah’s Witnesses cases argued in front of the Supreme Court between 1938 and 1946) to widen concepts of religious freedom to include the freedom of public religious expression and protections guarding against religious bias. Waldman makes a brief argument that common sense should prevail over legal battles, citing the Colorado case against a baker who refused to sell to an LGBTQ customer as an example of the legal system reaffirming common sense practices. General readers of American history will find much to enjoy in Waldman’s exploration of the evolution of American religious freedoms.

  • Kirkus

    April 1, 2019
    An energetic pop history surveys America's commitments to religious liberty from the 17th century to the present. As journalist and Beliefnet co-founder Waldman (Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, 2008, etc.) shows, whatever you may have learned in elementary school about the Puritans, the Colonies were hardly bastions of religious freedom; in fact, using executions and arrests, English leaders harshly enforced various ecclesial establishments. It wasn't until the American Revolution that the Founding Fathers crafted norms of religious liberty. James Madison is the star of Waldman's account; Thomas Jefferson shows up for his 1801 use of the phrase "wall of separation between Church & State," but the author pays too little attention to his important role in pushing for religious toleration in revolutionary Virginia. The late-18th- and early-19th-century articulations of religious freedom were the true beginning of the story. In the decades that followed, many groups, including Catholics, Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah's Witnesses, prodded the nation to further embody its ideals of religious liberty. As late as 1942, Franklin Roosevelt opined that America was "a Protestant country and the Catholics and Jews are here under sufferance." Indeed, as Waldman's especially helpful discussion of the post-World War II landscape demonstrates, the 1940s brought a new push for interfaith understanding--Amy Vanderbilt's etiquette guide included a chapter on it--as a sort of generic, pluralist faith was marshalled as a counter to communism. The 1940s also saw the Supreme Court taking a more expanded role defining religious freedom; in earlier decades, argues the author, the shape of religious liberty was largely left up to local governments. Turning to the present, Waldman suggests how anti-Islamic sentiment among non-Muslim Americans provides a way of assessing the reach and the limits of America's commitment to religious pluralism. Armchair historians who can tolerate Waldman's occasional stylistic indulgences--e.g., dramatic single-sentence paragraphs, breathless ellipses, lengthy block quotes--will be rewarded with an informative account.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • New York Times "Religious freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment, is central to America's identity. Waldman shows how remarkable that is, and how tenuous."
  • The Economist "A powerful account of American religion since the colonial period...This insightful study is grounds for guarded optimism. It shows that the advance of decency has been steady, heartening—and fragile."
  • Jon Meacham, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of The Soul of America "Without freedom of conscience the whole history of the nation—and world—might be very different. We are lucky that Waldman has written this compelling study of the most essential breakthrough of modernity: the right to believe, or not, as one wishes. A great book about a monumental issue."
  • Reza Aslan, author of Zealot and God: A Human History "This is an important and fascinating book full of riveting stories, provocative insights, inspiring heroes, and some serious warnings. The American model of religious freedom should be the envy of the world. But if we don't understand how we made this great 'invention,' we could easily squander the achievement."
  • James Fallows, author of Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America "Americans take for granted that religious liberty is one of the country's founding principles. Sacred Liberty provides the vivid, detailed, little-known stories of the people who first defended that principle and have continued to re-shape and revive it in dramatically changing circumstances. Surprising, instructive, very timely, and wise."
  • Craig L. Parshall, conservative First Amendment attorney and bestselling author "Steven Waldman has given us an extraordinarily readable journey through a thorny landscape: America's struggle to get religious liberty right. Agree or not with all of his conclusions, you cannot ignore the importance of his thesis that religious freedom must be a level ground for all sincerely held religious beliefs."
  • Booklist (starred review) "Highly accessible. . . . A fascinating look at an important piece of history. . . . superb, engrossing."
  • Christianity Today, Richard Mouw "Reading Steven Waldman's fine new book... has been good for my soul."
  • Ingrid Mattson, Former Head of the Islamic Society of North America "This is what we need to know about the history of religious freedom in America. It is often an uncomfortable story, frequently infuriating, sometimes inspiring, consistently challenging. Waldman draws the reader into this epic struggle with a vivid and engaging narrative."
  • Jonathan Zimmerman, Professor of History of Education, University of Pennsylvania "At a moment of renewed animus against minority faiths, Steven Waldman provides both a stirring defense of religious freedom and a warning against the forces that continue to threaten it. His book is a tour de force, crafted with an historian's eye and a journalist's flair."
  • Sylviane A.  Diouf, author of Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas "Well-researched and eye-opening. This compelling book is a must read for anyone whose life is impacted by the search and the fight for religious freedom. And that's all of us whether we know it or not; whether we follow a religion or we don't."
  • David Gibson, Director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University "Waldman's treatment of the religious intolerance that Catholics endured in the United States is especially interesting. It's also instructive now that many Catholics are making common cause on this issue alongside the spiritual heirs of the very Protestants who recently saw Catholics as unworthy of equal treatment."
  • Publishers Weekly "General readers of American history will find much to enjoy in Waldman's exploration of the evolution of American religious freedoms."
  • Kirkus Review "An energetic history surveys America's commitments to religious liberty from the 17th century to the present. . . . An informative account."
  • The Humanist "Waldman offers a sweeping overview of how the United States built a unique model of 'religious freedom'...Waldman can place current debates about religious liberty into sociopolitical and historical perspective."
  • Beliefnet "Sacred Liberty details America's long and continuing struggle to achieve true religious freedom for all people."
  • State of Belief Radio "Steven Waldman has made a permanent impact on religious discourse."
  • New York Magazine "A comprehensive history of America's tradition of religious freedom."
  • Deseret News "Waldman outlines countless attacks on people of faith throughout the country's history and interreligious tension that persists to this day. . . . Despite tough conclusions like this, Waldman isn't arguing that America's religious freedom laws are worthless. Instead, [he] helps people see why this...
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Sacred Liberty
Sacred Liberty
America's Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom
Steven Waldman
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