Free to Believe: The Battle Over Religious Liberty in America, by Luke Goodrich

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Luke Goodrich, and WaterBrook and Multnomah for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

At a time when religious freedoms are being questioned and pushed through the courts, Luke Goodrich has penned this interesting piece that mixes some legal analysis with a plea to let those who have religious beliefs from being treated as outcasts. The topic of religious freedom—in America and around the world—is nothing new, but it would seem that there is a new birth of entitlement on both sides that their beliefs are enshrined in constitutional documents and legal precedents. Luke Goodrich begins by trying to help the reader understand the role of rights and freedoms in American jurisprudence before tackling anything more complex. What would seem straightforward is constantly revised and reinterpreted, making discussion of the topic all the murkier. With an understanding of what the Founding Fathers felt as they wrote the US Constitution and some of the Supreme Court precedents on the topic, the reader is ready to wade into the depths of religious beliefs and how they stand up to the law. Goodrich effectively argues that there is a place for beliefs without violating the law, as long as both sides understand the rules and roles involved. Citing cases related to abortion, employment based on religious beliefs, and same-sex marriage, Goodrich explores the perspective of the devoutly religious, both individuals and institutions, before trying to parse through current legislation and court precedent. This permits the reader to better understand the battle taking place, presuming there is a general understanding of the person feeling aggrieved by actions from the aforementioned devout group. Taking that ‘battle’ analogy a little further, Goodrich devises the ‘conscientious objector’ role, whereby those who are not violating laws in a sinister manner ought to be protected from prosecution. One example is the pharmacist who does not want to dispense the ‘morning after pill’ because of their religious beliefs, but is happy to direct customers to another pharmacy. There is no inherent judgment about the client seeking the medication, but also not a requirement to go against one’s personal beliefs in order to allay financial or legal punishment. Goodrich pushes the argument further to include religious freedoms outside of those tied to the Christianity he mentions throughout the tome. In an era when many beliefs are making their way into mainstream society, there’s a conscious need not to be hierarchical, as long as there is a clear understanding of the limits. In the latter portion of the book, Goodrich shows how the Bible makes mention of many early examples of religious persecution and defence of those beliefs. It is telling to see how the arguments can be made and scriptural passages presented without bringing the fire and brimstone coming from each page. Goodrich makes his point effectively and keeps the arguments sound, while not denying his bias on the subject at hand. Recommended to those who enjoy an open-minded discussion about one of the hot button issues of today, as well as the reader who finds legal topics of interest.

When I saw this piece on offer, I knew that I would have to give it a try. While certain provincial governments in Canada flex their muscle about religious limitations, Luke Goodrich makes strong arguments about the larger themes that have certainly affected many national governments around the world. Religious freedoms have grown over the years as courts re-evaluate views and inherent rights of all people. While Goodrich cites some horrible limitations on religious sentiment from decades past, the hyper-vigilant citizen is quick to call for unfettered freedoms. Two parties claiming freedom from opposing sides cannot always find solace in the law, but Goodrich seeks to find the happy medium, based on his years litigating in cases of this nature. The reader will not only see some of the arguments he made, but also the level-headed approach to the law when religious sentiment enters the debate. There is a happy medium, though it will require both sides to relax their vehemence. The tome is laid out effectively so as to offer the reader a clear path to understand the arguments, the triggers, and the solutions to the various issues. Goodrich is clear in his explanations, peppering the text with some Scripture where it helps substantiate his point, but not shying away from legal matters either. While the focus of the book is on Christian beliefs, there is a great chapter exploring Islamic freedoms and how they cannot be dismissed without creating a double standard. While some readers may want something more academic or detached, Goodrich effectively makes his points and is able to sway a sometime skeptic like me to see the larger picture. I can accept many of the arguments being made without suspending by own belief system, though I can see how many may not feel this same luxury. With poignant topics and well-argued chapters, Goodrich adds to the discussion without vilifying any side.

Kudos, Mr. Goodrich, for this wonderful piece. I am pleased I took the time to read it and hope to find other publications to enrich my knowledge on the subject.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: