America’s Greatest Invention
America’s Long, Bloody and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom
This site aspires to do more than promote my book — though it does do that (have you ordered your copy yet?). It offers resources and provocations about the history of religious freedom in America — including an archive of hundreds of letters and documents (see the topics on the right rail) and images like those below. Enjoy!
Sacred Liberty offers a dramatic, sweeping survey of how America built a unique model of religious freedom, perhaps the nation’s “greatest invention.” Steven Waldman, the bestselling author of Founding Faith, shows how early ideas about religious liberty were tested and refined amidst the brutal persecution of Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, Quakers, African slaves, Native Americans, Muslims, Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses. American leaders drove religious freedom forward—figures like James Madison, George Washington, the World War II presidents (Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower) and even George W. Bush. But the biggest heroes were the regular Americans—people like Mary Dyer, Marie Barnett, and W. D. Mohammed—who risked their lives or reputations by demanding to practice their faiths freely.
Sacred Liberty brings to life the remarkable story of how America became one of the few nations in world history that has religious freedom, diversity, and high levels of piety at the same time. Finally, Sacred Liberty provides a roadmap for how, in the face of modern threats to religious freedom, this great achievement can be preserved.
“A superb, engrossing, readable overview…. A fascinating look at an important piece of history.”
—BOOKLIST (starred review)
“A powerful account….This insightful study is grounds for guarded optimism. It shows that the advance of decency has been steady, heartening—and fragile.”
–THE ECONOMIST, full review.
New and Noteworthy.
–THE NEW YORK TIMES, full review
“Reading Steven Waldman’s fine new book… has been good for my soul.”
–CHRISTIANITY TODAY, reviewed by Richard Mouw.
“A remarkable book .”
–IMPOLITE COMPANY, Amy Sullivan’s podcast
“Without freedom of conscience the whole history of the nation—and world—might be very different. We are lucky that Waldman has written this compelling study of the most essential breakthrough of modernity: the right to believe, or not, as one wishes. This is a great book about a monumental issue.”
—JON MEACHAM, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of The Soul of America
“Sacred Liberty is an important and fascinating book full of riveting stories, provocative insights, inspiring heroes, and some serious warnings. The American model of religious freedom should be the envy of the world. But if we don’t understand how we made this great ‘invention,’ we could easily squander the achievement.”
—REZA ASLAN, author of Zealot and God: A Human
“This is such a clear, valuable, surprising, timely and wise book…. Sacred Liberty provides the vivid, detailed, little-known stories of the people who first defended the principle of religious freedom, and have continued to re-shape and revive it in dramatically changing circumstances.”
—JAMES FALLOWS, National Correspondent for The Atlantic, co-author of the bestseller Our Towns
“Steven Waldman has given us an extraordinarily readable journey through a uniquely thorny landscape: America’s struggle to get religious liberty right. Agree or not with all of his conclusions, you cannot ignore the importance of his thesis that religious freedom must be a level ground for all sincerely held religious beliefs.”
—CRAIG L. PARSHALL, conservative civil liberties attorney and author
“This is what we need to know about the history of religious freedom in America. It is often an uncomfortable story, frequently infuriating, sometimes inspiring, consistently challenging. Waldman draws the reader into this epic struggle with a vivid and engaging narrative.”
—INGRID MATTSON, former president of the Islamic Society of North America
“This compelling book is a must-read for anyone whose life is impacted by the search and the fight for religious freedom. And it’s all of us whether we know it or not; whether we follow a religion or we don’t.”
—SYLVIANE A. DIOUF, author of Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas
“Sacred Liberty is a tour de force, crafted with an historian’s eye and a journalist’s flair. At a moment of renewed animus against minority faiths, Steven Waldman provides both a stirring defense of religious freedom and a warning against the forces that continue to threaten it.”
—JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN, professor of education and history, University of Pennsylvania