Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power

Anna Su

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

November 2, 2013

Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power, Harvard University Press (Forthcoming)

The book is a constitutional history of the previously unexamined American origins of our contemporary international legal regime on religious freedom. The absence of the United States and the role it played in the creation of this transnational constellation of laws in current debates and literature stems from two misunderstandings: the commonplace view that religion was a marginal factor in the conduct of U.S. foreign relations, and the ever-receding knowledge that the U.S. was once an empire among empires. This new account fills this gap by tracing United States government efforts in exporting and promoting American ideas of religious freedom in various laws and constitutions abroad since its emergence as a global power in 1898 and examines six historical episodes which illustrate this effort. History shows that religious freedom was not always understood in the language of individual human rights as we know it today. It began as a part of the American civilizing mission, and then shifted as a democratizing ingredient before evolving into its contemporary incarnation as a human right. But religious freedom as a human right during the Cold War differed from its post-Cold War version in that while it was previously used as a weapon against the atheistic Soviet Union, it is now a justification of continuing American power. From the Philippines in 1898 up to Iraq in 2004, the legal articulation of religious freedom in these laws and constitutions served as an expression of American national interests and these different conceptions offer a glimpse into the process of changing American views of its own role in the world.

Keywords: religious liberty, legal history, international law

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Date posted: November 3, 2013 ; Last revised: April 16, 2014

Suggested Citation

Su, Anna, Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power (November 2, 2013). Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power, Harvard University Press (Forthcoming). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2349184

Contact Information

Anna Su (Contact Author)
University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )
78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

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