New Book by USD Law Professor Steven D. Smith Examines the History of Religious Freedom in the United States

The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom

Cambridge, Mass. (January 14, 2014) - Harvard University Press today announced the release of The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom, the latest book from University of San Diego (USD) School of Law Professor Steven D. Smith.

Familiar accounts of religious freedom in the United States often tell a story of visionary founders who broke from the centuries-old patterns of Christendom to establish a political arrangement committed to secular and religiously neutral government. These novel commitments were supposedly embodied in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. But this story is largely a fairytale, Smith says in this incisive examination of a much-mythologized subject.

In this timely new book, Smith argues that the goal of American religious liberty has been ill served by the Supreme Court doctrines of the past fifty years. He makes the case that the American achievement was not a rejection of Christian commitments but a retrieval of classic Christian ideals of freedom of the church and freedom of conscience.

Smith maintains that the distinctive American contribution to religious freedom was not in the First Amendment, which was intended merely to preserve the political status quo in matters of religion. What was important was the commitment to open contestation between secularist and providentialist understandings of the nation that evolved over the nineteenth century.

In the twentieth century, far from vindicating constitutional principles, as conventional wisdom suggests, the Supreme Court imposed secular neutrality, which effectively repudiated this commitment to open contestation. Rather than upholding what was distinctively American and constitutional, these decisions subverted it. The negative consequences are visible today in the incoherence of religion clause jurisprudence and the intense culture wars in American politics.

Title: The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom

Author: Steven D. Smith

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Publication Date: February 3, 2014

Price: $39.95

ISBN-10: 0674724755

ISBN-13: 978-0674724754

Pages: 240

About Professor Smith

Steven D. Smith is Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of San Diego, where he teaches and writes in the areas of law and religion, constitutional law, and torts. Smith is also the co-executive director for both USD’s Institute for Law and Religion and Institute for Law & Philosophy. Smith’s books include The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (Harvard University Press, 2010); Law's Quandary (Harvard University Press, 2004); and Foreordained Failure: The Quest for a Constitutional Principle of Religious Freedom (Oxford University Press, 1995). His latest book is The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom (Harvard University Press, 2014).

About the University of San Diego School of Law

Recognized for the excellence of its faculty, curriculum and clinical programs, the University of San Diego (USD) School of Law enrolls approximately 900 Juris Doctor and graduate law students from throughout the United States and around the world. The law school is best known for its offerings in the areas of business and corporate law, constitutional law, intellectual property, international and comparative law, public interest law, and taxation.

USD School of Law is one of the 81 law schools elected to the Order of the Coif, a national honor society for law school graduates. The law school’s faculty is a strong group of outstanding scholars and teachers with national and international reputations and currently ranks 23rd worldwide in all-time faculty downloads on the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN). The school is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Founded in 1954, the law school is part of the University of San Diego, a private, nonprofit, independent, Roman Catholic university chartered in 1949.


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