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Religious freedom, United States, Founders, Western legal tradition, Constitutional balance


For all of their failures and shortcomings, the eighteenth-century founders did indeed begin on the right “path” toward a free society, and today, Americans enjoy a good deal of religious, civil, and political freedom as a consequence. American principles of religious freedom have had a profound influence around the globe, and they now figure prominently in a number of national constitutions and international human rights instruments issued by political and religious bodies.

To be sure, as Adams predicted, there has always been a “glorious uncertainty of the law” of religious liberty and a noble diversity of understandings of its details. This was as true in Adams’s day as in our own. In Adams’s day, there were competing models of religious liberty that were more overtly theological than his—whether Puritan, Evangelical, Catholic, Quaker, or Anglican in inspiration. There were also competing models that were more overtly philosophical than his— whether Neoclassical, Republican, Whig, or Liberal in inclination. Today, these and other founding models of religious liberty have born ample progeny, and the great rivalries among them are fought out in the courts, legislatures, and academies throughout the land and, increasingly, the world.

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Journal of Christian Legal Thought