Attorney Kenneth Craycraft, Jr. is the author of The American Myth of Religious Freedom (Spence Publishers, 1999). In that book, Craycraft argued that the protection for religious freedom guaranteed in the Constitution is not as vigorous as many believers may hope. The underlying assumptions in 18th-century Anglo-American thought about the nature of freedom, of political authority, and of religion itself were even then predisposed to favor the interests of the state over religious claims if they came into conflict.
Craycraft observes that the liberal understanding of religious liberty is the freedom of individuals to choose from among a profusion of faiths. Religious liberty is thus just one expression of the fundamental fact of human nature and dignity as understood by liberalism: that we are beings with the capacity to make choices. Some religions, however, hold to the conviction that the most fundamental fact about us is that we are creatures made to glorify God and to live in accordance with the truth. Truth is prior to freedom. A choice is not authentically free if it is not in accord with what is true and good. By contrast, the assumption in the liberal idea of freedom as assumed by the Constitution and defended by the state is that freedom is prior to truth.
One of the consequences of Craycraft’s argument — which is similar to arguments made by many other constitutional lawyers, philosophers, and theologians — is that the actions of the government in recent years that are perceived as an erosion of religious freedom are in fact the fulfillment of latent assumptions underlying our Constitutional order.
In this fifth feature of our series on political theology, Kenneth Craycraft, Jr. contrasts the assumptions about religious liberty held by Locke, Jefferson, and others with a view maintained by many Christian theologians and philosophers.
This feature is hosted by Ken Myers, producer of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. For more information, visit our website at marshillaudio.org.