Steven Waldman has something new to say about religious freedom in the US

His narrative includes heroes and villains on both sides of the political divide.

A new book on the history of religious freedom in America is akin to a new book on Abraham Lincoln: the topic is undoubtedly important and interesting, but hasn’t everything of note already been said?

Not necessarily. Steven Wald­man’s book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in religious freedom, as it deals with issues that remain at the core of many of our most vital public debates. Waldman tells a fascinating story in a fascinating way. He writes with care, verve, and insight. With an eye to detail and anecdote, he challenges many common prejudices. Sacred Liberty will both comfort and discomfort its diverse audience.

“In the beginning, America pretty much rejected religious liberty,” reads the book’s opening line. This suggests that what follows might be yet another tedious catalog of America’s many wrongs. And Waldman certainly provides sufficient graphic portraits of religious prejudice, injustice, and violence to temper any American triumphalism based in false notions of a steady unfolding of liberty since the country’s founding. But he also tells enough tales of struggles and victories for religious freedom to encourage us about what we have inherited and how far we have come. On the left and the right, customary heroes are challenged and customary villains show surprising virtues.