The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom

Book Event Sponsored by the Faculty Division and the George Washington University Law School Student Chapter

In Prof. Steven Smith's new book, The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom, he challenges the widely held belief that the American Founders were great innovators in their approach to church-state relations, and that they were mavericks that created an entirely secular polity committed to religious neutrality. Smith offers a different narrative. He argues that the Founders acheived a remarkable feat, not by completely severing all ties with religion, but by recognizing the profound importance of the ideals of freedom of conscience and freedom of the church from state control -- ideals that Christians have revered since ancient times.

Smith counters the conventional wisdom that the First Amendment comprises America's great religious freedom legacy. He rather holds that the United States's contribution to religious freedom was its deep commitment to allowing open debate between those with religious and non-religious worldviews. Smith also argues that, in the twentieth century, rather than protecting religious freedom, the Supreme Court made "secular neutrality" the law, thus undermining the Founders' desire for this open debate.

Join the Federalist Society's Faculty Division and the George Washington University Federalist Society as Steven Smith and other religious freedom experts discuss the history of American religious freedom. 


  • Prof. Steven Smith, Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, University of San Diego School of Law
  • Prof. John Inazu, Associate Professor, Washington University School of Law
  • Prof. Ira Lupu, F. Elwood and Eleanor Davis Professor Emeritus of Law, George Washington University Law School
  • Moderator: Prof. Robert Destro, Professor of Law and founding Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion, The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law