Melissa Rogers is an attorney and professor who specializes in church-state relations. Her new book Faith in American Public Life (Baylor University Press) was published in October. In this Q&A with Church & State Editor Rob Boston, Rogers discusses the book and addresses some current church-state controversies.
The book has received many positive reviews. Randall Balmer, John Phillips Professor in Religion at Dartmouth College, called Faith in American Public Life "A careful and meticulous study, one that has enormous value to scholars but also to general readers who are interested in this important topic. What sets this book apart is the careful scholarship as well as the breadth of the treatment, taking the analysis up to the present. Rogers covers all of the relevant cases, providing historical as well as cultural context. "
Faith in American Public Life is available through online booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as at bookstores.
Q. You've worked in this space for a long time--as an attorney for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, as an adviser on faithbased initiatives in the Obama White House and as a professor at Wake Forest University's Divinity School. Why did you decide to dedicate your life to the issue of religious freedom?
Rogers: As a child, I learned about the theological and legal importance of church-state separation and religious freedom while I sat in pews at Baptist churches. Baptists had once been a persecuted minority, I was told, and, for that reason and others, we have both a religious and civic obligation to defend religious freedom for all people, including the smallest religious minorities and people who are not religious. At our best, Baptists have done so, including calling for a robust interpretation of both the no-establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment.
After graduating from law school and spending some time at a D.C. law firm, I began to do pro bono work for what was then known as the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, now known as BJC. Subsequently, the late James Dunn and Brent Walker were kind enough to offer me my first job working on these issues, providing me with an opportunity to combine my love of the law and of my faith. The right to religious freedom is a foundational aspect of human dignity, one that holds great importance for me as an American and as a Baptist.
While our legal system certainly is not perfect, it has produced remarkable freedom and also created conditions in which religion can be vital and people of diverse faiths and beliefs can join together to push the country to new heights. I'm thankful for all, from the right to the left, who made, and continue to make, space for me to work with them on shared concerns in this area, including my friends and colleagues at Americans United and at the BJC.
Q. What do you hope to achieve with your new book?
Rogers: I hope to help...