Conservative Christianity has been and continues to be an important movement in American law. But it is difficult to read an even-handed account of it, since academic treatments tend to view it as a force of evil that must be identified, guarded against, and hopefully obliterated, and non-academic treatments are too often hagiographic in nature. Here’s an effort that appears to do better–political scientist Daniel Bennett’s new “Defending Faith: The Politics of the Christian Conservative Legal Movement,” which will be released by U. Kansas Press next month. Here’s the description.
When, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the US Supreme Court held that bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution, Christian conservative legal organizations (CCLOs) decried the ruling. Foreseeing an “assault against Christians,” Liberty Counsel president Mat Staver declared, “We are entering a cultural civil war.” Many would argue that a cultural war was already well underway; and yet, as this timely book makes clear, the stakes, the forces engaged, and the strategies employed have undergone profound changes in recent years.
In Defending Faith, Daniel Bennett shows how the Christian legal movement (CLM) and its affiliated organizations arrived at this moment in time. He explains how CCLOs advocate for issues central to Christian conservatives, highlights the influence of religious liberty on the CLM’s broader agenda, and reveals how the Christian Right has become accustomed to the courts as a field of battle in today’s culture wars. On one level a book about how the Christian Right mobilized and organized an effective presence on an unavoidable front in battles over social policy, the courtroom, Defending Faith is also a case study of interest groups pursuing common goals while maintaining unique identities. As different as these proliferating groups might be, they are alike in increasingly construing their efforts as a defense of religious freedom against hostile forces throughout American society—and thus as benefitting society as a whole rather than limiting the rights of certain groups. The first holistic, wide-angle picture of the Christian legal movement in the United States, Bennett’s work tells the story of the growth of a powerful legal community and of the development of legal advocacy as a tool of social and political engagement.