Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-ix
  2. Elissa B. Alzate
    Pages 29-61
  3. Elissa B. Alzate
    Pages 89-101
  4. Back Matter
    Pages 103-104

About this book


This book assesses the concept of religious liberty in the United States according to the political theory of John Locke. Protecting the individual freedom of religion without infringing on the rights of others or on legitimate political authority requires delicate balance. The work analyzes Locke’s concept of religious liberty and, from it, derives nine criteria for locating that balance. The most important of these criteria requires government neutrality and equality before the law. The United States has historically struggled with providing this balance, particularly through Supreme Court decisions, resulting in the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Application of Locke’s criteria for balancing religious liberty and government authority to three recent cases—a government employee, an employer, and a small business owner—reveal that RFRA legislation threatens this balance by undermining neutral government action and treats citizens unequally before the law.


Religious liberty John Locke American founder religion Kim Davis Hobby Lobby Arlene's Flowers Second Treatise liberty of conscience Religious Freedom Restoration Act Sherbert Smith

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Deparment Political ScienceWinona State UniversityWinonaUSA

About the authors

Elissa B. Alzate is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Winona State University, USA. She authored “From Individual to Citizen: Enhancing the Bonds of Citizenship Through Religion in Locke’s Political Theory,” Polity (2014) and From Concept to Dialogue: An Introduction to Political Theory (2017). She teaches courses in toleration and religion in politics.

Bibliographic information


“Elissa Alzate has written an extremely relevant book applying John Locke's theory of religious liberty to current controversies over the scope of this liberty. There are many scholarly works on Locke; similarly, there are many works on varying interpretations of the First Amendment. Alzate brings these topics together, discussing what Locke might say about county clerks who resist issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, religious exemptions for commercial corporations, and florists who decline to sell their services in the context of same-sex weddings. This book will be of interest to both political theorists and scholars of religion and politics. It will also be useful in the classroom for faculty who want to demonstrate the relevance of political theory to contemporary controversies.” (Emily R. Gill, Caterpillar Professor of Political Science Emerita, Bradley University)