The Lutheran Reformation did not realize immediately the transforming power of Luther’s founding ideals of liberty, equality, and dignity. But later Western revolutionaries took these ideals as so “self-evident” that revolutions were fought for their abridgement and constitutions were forged for their protection.
What forms of marriage should citizens be able to choose, and what forms of religious marriage law should government be required to respect? These are “unavoidable” questions for any modern society dedicated to protecting both the civil
and religious liberties of all its citizens.
In this Article, I focus on the development of rights talk in the pre-Enlightenment Protestant tradition. More particularly,
I show how early modern Calvinists—those Protestants inspired by the teachings of Genevan reformer John
Calvin (1509–1564)—developed a theory of fundamental rights as part and product of a broader constitutional
theory of resistance and military revolt against tyranny…..As an illustration of this broader story, this Article focuses on the reformation of rights and liberties led by the great English poet and philosopher, John Milton (1604–1674).
The intellectual history of Western rights talk is still very much a work in progress, with scholars still discovering and disputing in earnest the basic roots and routes of the development of rights concepts and structures. What follows is a brief sampling of some of the highlights of this still highly contested story.
Christian jurists, theologians, and ethicists have made monumental contributions to this burgeoning field of law and religion study that we have just loosely mapped. I would like to address briefly a few of the main challenges that
lie before Christian jurists and jurisprudence in this new century.
“Metaphors in law are to be narrowly watched,” Justice Benjamin Cardozo once warned, “for starting as devises to liberate thought, they end often by enslaving it.” So it has been with the metaphor of a wall of separation. This metaphor has held popular imagination so firmly that many of us have not noticed that separation of church and
state is no longer the law of the land. In a long series of cases over the past fifteen years, the Supreme Court has abandoned much of its earlier separationism, and reversed several of its harshest cases on point. The Court has upheld government policies that support the public access and activities.
In this essay, I focus on the development of rights talk in the pre-Enlightenment Protestant tradition. More particularly, I show how early modern Protestants, especially followers of Genevan reformer John Calvin (1509–1564), developed a theory of fundamental rights as part and product of a broader constitutional theory of resistance and military revolt against tyranny.