Here’s a new book right in the heartland of our projects at the Center by longtime Center friend and contributor Professor Vincent Phillip Muñoz, Religious Liberty and the American Founding: Natural Rights and the Original Meaning of the First Amendment Religion Clauses (Chicago Press forthcoming). I had the pleasure of reading a good chunk of this manuscript, and it is excellent on both the historical and theoretical sides of things. The work is deeply informed by Phillip’s prior work on the idea of natural rights at the founding and of their proper scope. It is probably fair to say that the scope of natural rights on Phillip’s account, at least for some of the significant rights we discuss today, is generally (not always) significantly narrower than what we tend to believe today. Tough and chewy, but small and digestible, might be a possible description (the blurb below says “minimalist”). That view of natural rights certainly has a powerful impact on the claims in this worthwhile book.

The Founders understood religious liberty to be an inalienable natural right. Vincent Phillip Muñoz explains what this means for church-state constitutional law, uncovering what we can and cannot determine about the original meanings of the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses and constructing a natural rights jurisprudence of religious liberty.  

Drawing on early state constitutions, declarations of religious freedom, Founding-era debates, and the First Amendment’s drafting record, Muñoz demonstrates that adherence to the Founders’ political philosophy would lead neither to consistently conservative nor consistently liberal results. Rather, adopting the Founders’ understanding would lead to a minimalist church-state jurisprudence that, in most cases, would return authority from the judiciary to the American people. Thorough and convincing, Religious Liberty and the American Founding is key reading for those seeking to understand the Founders’ political philosophy of religious freedom and the First Amendment Religion Clauses.

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