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Religious Liberty and the American Founding

Natural Rights and the Original Meanings of the First Amendment Religion Clauses

An insightful rethinking of the meaning of the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom.
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.

344 pages | 8 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Law and Legal Studies: The Constitution and the Courts

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Classic Political Thought


"Vincent Phillip Muñoz’s superb new book is an indispensable guide to the issue that will soon replace abortion as the most important point of contention in our constitutional law. . . . The relationship between church and state will become the defining concern of a new era in the courts. . . . The framers wrote the religion clauses of our Constitution to set the parameters, as best they could, for a healthy and noble balance between freedom and order. Recovering the original meanings of those clauses is essential if we are to restore that balance, and Vincent Phillip Muñoz’s book gives invaluable aid in that necessary task."

Claremont Review of Books

“Muñoz’s exploration of the natural law foundations of religious liberty is highly illuminating. It is a model of how natural law analysis can be used to understand constitutional rights.”

Philip Hamburger, Columbia Law School

“Muñoz offers a careful reconstruction of the original meaning of the religion clauses, scrupulously mapping the motives and concerns that animated the framers.  He vividly recreates their world and draws surprising contemporary implications from the constitutional text they wrote—implications that pose a serious challenge to the self-styled originalists on today’s Supreme Court.”

Andrew Koppelman, author of "Defending American Religious Neutrality"

Table of Contents

Introduction: Natural Rights and the First Amendment Religion Clauses

Part 1 Philosophy: The Founders’ Political Philosophy of Religious Liberty
Chapter 1 The Founders’ First Agreement: The Natural Right of Religious Liberty Is Possessed by All Individuals
Chapter 2 The Founders’ Second Agreement: Society Compact Theory, Freedom of Worship, and Religious Liberty as an Inalienable Right
Chapter 3 The Foundations of the Founders’ Agreements: The Founders’ Philosophies and Theologies of the Natural Right of Religious Liberty
Chapter 4 The Founders’ Disagreement: Natural Rights and the Separation of Church from State

Part 2 Constitutional Originalism: The Original Meanings of the Religion Clauses
Chapter 5 The Original Meaning of the Establishment Clause
Chapter 6 The Original Meaning of the Free Exercise Clause

Part 3 Constitutional Meaning: Constructing the Religion Clauses
Chapter 7 Natural Rights Constructions of the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses
Chapter 8 How the Natural Rights Constructions Would Adjudicate Actual Cases
Conclusion   Should We Adopt the Natural Rights Constructions?

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