Constitution 201

“Case Study: Religious Liberty in the Administrative State”


Post-1960s Progressivism has steadily eroded religious liberty and the freedom of association in America. Measures such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and many anti-discrimination laws express a new understanding of rights that rejects the Founders’ view of religious liberty and the freedom of private associations to govern themselves. Recent Progressivism follows the early Progressive belief that effective freedom requires government to redistribute resources in order to provide equal access to the goods that promote mental development and that make life comfortable. This redistributive agenda is combined with a new emphasis on the empowerment of victim groups, sexual liberation, and an aversion to traditional Christianity and Judaism that requires government intervention in the internal affairs of private organizations. Religious liberty today is divorced from the freedom of association and the free exercise of religion, which the Founders understood to be essential for a free society. 



Note: all readings link to Hillsdale's online Constitution Reader, also available at


  1. "The Northwest Ordinance" – Article I
  2. "The Northwest Ordinance" – Article III
  3. Thomas Jefferson - "Notes on the State of Virginia" - Query XVIII: Manners
  4. George Washington - "Farewell Address"  (Excerpt)


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Thomas G. West is the Paul Ermine Potter and Dawn Tibbetts Potter Professor in Politics at Hillsdale College. He received his B.A. from Cornell University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University.