Quaker Universalist Voice

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Religious Violence

A Book Review of Steven Waldman, Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom (2019)

Steven Waldman, Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom (2019) describes a substantially ugly story of intolerance and violence by religious majorities against religious minorities in U.S. history.  Violence and pain is a consistent, serious theme in the cultural history of the religious minorities in the U.S.

We are all in this story together, good and bad.  We are all infected with arrogance in favor of our tradition, diminishing the value of other traditions.  Violence spills out.  It is a universal challenge for humans.

This book offers a vivid description of U.S. oppression of currently unpopular ethnic minorities who are identified with other religious traditions, punctuated with some successful efforts for establishing and maintaining freedom for previously rejected religious groups.  The narrative links this oppression to slavery and Native Americans (indigenous peoples), Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, Muslims, and Baptists. 

Our way, or the highway, is the sentiment throughout U.S. history, and for that matter, throughout human history.  We must remember that this is the universal human story.  The U.S. experience is not worse.  But, the U.S. story is not much better and may become worse.

From this book, we learn that the U.S. approach to religious toleration has distinctive rules that are dynamically modified by continuing accommodation, including:

  • Separation of religious institutions and the government;
  • Recognition of the diversity/variety of religious sects;
  • Religious freedom is a right;
  • Government must not force one religion on another religion;
  • Majority religions may not oppress minority religions;
  • People define religion for themselves;
  • Religion is free to self-regulate;
  • Government words should be inclusive of all religions;
  • Government must accommodate to all religions; and
  • Government’s role is to promote religious freedom, not religion.

For the author, this is a formula for constant protection and a model for all other countries and cultures.

Quakers: Quakers fare a bit better than other religious sects in this story, but not by much.  All traditions have their dark sides, usually linked to newly embraced majority status.


  • Are Quakers complicit in supporting a false, comfortable story of inter-religious relations in U.S. history?
  • How do Quakers describe their relationship to interfaith dialogue?


  • Steven Waldman, Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, ad Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom (2019)
  • D. Lacorne, The Limits of Tolerance: Enlightenment Values and Religious Fanaticism (2019
  • A. Uddin, when Islam is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom (2019)
  • B. Leiter, Why Tolerate Religion? (2013)
  • S. Mansfield, Ten Tortured Words (2007)
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