“Religious liberty” is a phrase that we often hear, particularly in news stories revolving around Supreme Court decisions. But what is religious liberty and why is it often referred to as “the first liberty?”
These are among the questions addressed in Kenneth Starr’s 2021 book, Religious Liberty in Crisis: Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty (Encounter, 2021)
Although Judge Starr possesses impeccable scholarly credentials, the book is intended for general readers. It is an informative blend of American legal and constitutional history and a primer for all of us about a crucial component of our set of rights as citizens.
Even if you are not religious, the book will endow you with a greater understanding of an issue that frequently roils the body politic and that is both timeless and of ongoing concern. Think Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission—decided by the Supreme Court in 2018.
Luckily, we have with us today one of America’s leading lawyers to walk us through the fascinating history of religious liberty and give us the lowdown on what we need to know should we find ourselves facing a choice between honoring our sabbath day and keeping our jobs.
Kenneth Starr has been a figure of great note on the American legal landscape for decades. He is perhaps best known for his role in the Whitewater investigation during the Clinton administration and as a key member of Donald Trump’s defense team in the latter’s first impeachment trial. He has been, among other things, a federal judge at the highest levels, a law school dean and a university president.
Most significantly in terms of the subject matter of his new book and thus the main focus of our interview, he is a long-time champion of religious liberty and, as solicitor general under George HW Bush, argued before the Supreme Court such notable religious liberty and freedom of speech cases as Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, in which the Supreme Court found that a Bible club has the same right of equal access on school grounds as any other student-led organization. Judge Starr employs that famous case to illustrate one of the concepts discussed in book, equality. It is a cause dear to his heart and probably even more so given own quite humble origins in his home state of Texas.
The common man aspects of Starr’s background have enabled him to make this book approachable to its intended broad-ranging audience. Most of us at one time or another have found ourselves in school, work or business environments or simply driving along a highway and it is surprising how often questions involving religious liberty pop up for average people in such settings.
Starr guides the reader engagingly and expertly through such questions as:
What is the Lemon Test? What do you need to know about religious liberty as a parent, public school or college student, teacher, small business owner or employee? How have wedding cakes, monuments in the shape of Christian crosses, public displays of the Ten Commandments on government property, and government-subsidized school bus rides played into all of this? What is “accommodation” in this context and when might you need to seek one and what should you do if you are denied it? What is the relationship between free speech and religious liberty?
We welcome Judge Starr, a Christian gentleman of the first order.
Give a listen.
Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher.
Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher in the biomedical sciences. She is particularly interested in the subjects of natural law, religious liberty and history generally.