Sunday, March 9, 2014

Kabala on Miller

James S. Kabala reviews Nicholas P. Miller's, "The Religious Roots of the First Amendment: Dissenting Protestants and the Separation of Church and State." Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. 272 pp., $35. A taste:
Miller then uses chapters two through five to trace the development of Protestant-influenced ideas of private judgment and religious freedom in the thought and writings of seven key figures of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: John Locke, William Penn, Elisha Williams, Isaac Backus, William Livingston, John Witherspoon, and James Madison. (Williams, today probably the least-known figure of the seven, was a Connecticut legislator and former president of Yale who defended the rights of itinerant preachers during the Great Awakening and later published a broader work entitled Seasonable Plea for Liberty of Conscience.) Miller carefully assembles evidence that each of these figures was genuinely important (decrying the Supreme Court's fondness for citing Roger Williams rather than Penn and Thomas Jefferson rather than Madison) and that each came out of the tradition of dissenting Protestantism rather than of the Enlightenment. For example, he painstakingly documents that William Livingston, author of the essays in the Independent Reflector, was sometimes anti-clerical but never anti-religious.

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