This essay honors my dear friend of half a century, Burns Weston. In it, I take a fresh look at the backdrop and structure of toleration and religious freedom in the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 and in the American Constitution, with special focus on a recent unanimous Supreme Court decision of first impression. That important decision protects inner church freedoms in ecclesiastical employment, the so-called "ministerial exception" to federal and state employment discrimination laws.
"Of all the great world religions past and present," writes the noted historian Perez Zagorin, "Christianity has been by far the most intolerant." Violence and the wars of religion before and after the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation, in particular, exhausted Europe. The Peace of Westphalia ended the brutal Thirty Years' War in Europe (Spain and France remained at war until the Treaty of the Pyrenees of 1659). Europeans and Americans often congratulate themselves on the rise of religious toleration afterwards. This story may be flawed, for sectarian violence actually increased inside states from 1550 to 1750.
Christenson, Gordon A., "Liberty of the Exercise of Religion in the Peace of Westphalia" (2012). Faculty Articles and Other Publications. 282.