On Friday, September 17, 2010, a truly momentous event took
place in Westminster Hall, the ancient seat of the English Parliament.
On this day Pope Benedict XVI addressed an assembled group of British
politicians, diplomats, academics, business leaders and other
representatives of British society, including members of the present
government and four former prime ministers.
Let me begin with the obvious: I am not claiming that any scholar,
or educated person, believes that the only constitutions that have ever
existed have been liberal. Everyone knows or should know that, for
example, the Greek constitutions of Solon, Lycurgus, and others
discussed in Aristotles Politics predate liberalism by many centuries.1
Moreover, constitutions come in a wide variety of forms, and many of
these, whether written or unwritten, have explicitly been illiberal.
Contemporary liberalism, both its American variant as well as its
classical and European cousins,1 is often thought of as a secular political
philosophy with little in common with various religious faiths, least of all
Christianity. Indeed, many of liberalisms most famous adherents, past and
present, have taken a certain pride in distancing themselves from
Christianity, most especially and perversely, Roman Catholicism.
Other contributors to this symposium see "liberalism" as the
problem and "God" as the solution. To a large extent, Ithink they have
it backwards. "God" is the problem to which "liberalism" provides a
particularly creative solution. Power hates a rival, and God or
allegiance to an all-embracing monotheistic God poses a significant
threat to power because the wild faith of the martyr cannot be tamed by
Our symposium conveners have focused us on the relationship
between liberalism and Christianity and their influence on American
constitutionalism.1 My objective is to complicate the relationship and
reorient the influence. The focus of my inquiry is the liberty of
conscience and its implications for navigating the relationship between
church and state.
The concept of human rights can be traced back for a few centuries
or even several millennia, depending on ones understanding of the
historical record.3 Discussion of individual rights can be found in the
writers of late medieval times.
Classic liberal legal thought has clearly been shaped by the
influence of Christianity. But in recent years, the movement, like ancient
Gnosticism, has some Christian elements, but has become a decidedly
anti-Christian force in the courts. This comparison tracks well with the
analysis of other parallel modern intellectual movements by the political
scientist Eric Voegelin
It is the late spring/early fall, 1786, in Annapolis, Maryland and a
group of men have gathered together in a hall on a singular mandate
from their esteemed national Congress: to develop a plan to save their
nation. From the high flush of unexpected victory over the King George
IIIs mighty British navy and infantry sealed with the signing of the
Second Treaty of Paris in 1783, the fledgling United States of America
had by then settled to a low unimaginable in those happy days just three
Perhaps the news of modernitys death, accompanied by the supposed
advent of postmodernity, has been greatly exaggerated?1
Throughout the last two decades, many scholars have opined about the
rise of postmodernism and its impact on religion, specifically the First
Amendments Religion Clause.
While the United States is filled with religious sects, denominations,
worshippers, and even fanatics, the truth is that American society has
become largely secular.