A civil debate about religious freedom

John Corvino, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis agree: religious liberty is good, discrimination is bad, and the clash between these values is complicated.

John Corvino, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis are leading advocates in America’s culture wars, particularly concerning religious objections to complying with newer sexual mores. But they don’t all agree with one another. Corvino, a skilled philosopher, argues for the liberal side and thanks his husband for his support, while Anderson and Girgis are students of Robert George, perhaps the most trenchant critic of modern views of marriage, gender, and sex. Their book is as lively and informed as it promises to be.

The names of those who commend the volume on the back cover are also noteworthy. Redoubtable philosopher Mar­tha Nussbaum, whose views are reminiscent of Corvino’s, calls the work “a refreshing and hope-inspiring book. Provocative, clear, careful in argument, searching in coverage.” This sentiment is echoed by Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. The agreement of two leading advocates on opposite sides on most of these issues suggests that the book they endorse is well worth reading.

The introduction, which carries all three authors’ bylines, provides a succinct overview of contemporary controversies embedded within a history of religious freedom in America. Many of these conflicts are not new but have appeared “whenever people have conscientious objections to laws and policies that bind them.” They arose when Quakers sought exemption from militia service and the Amish from mandatory schooling. They arise when Muslim prisoners want to have beards or Sikhs request exemptions from helmet laws. What’s new is that most modern disputes concern exemptions from laws and regulations pertaining to marriage, gender, and sex, raising the question of whether such exemptions constitute unlawful discrimination.