Center for the Study of Religious Freedom History

The Williamsburg Charter was written to address the dilemmas, challenges, and opportunities posed by religious liberty in American public life. Beginning in the fall of 1986, the charter was drafted by representatives of America’s leading faiths—Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and secularist, in particular. It was revised over the course of two years in close consultation with political leaders, scholars from many disciplines, and leaders from a wide array of faith communities. Named after Williamsburg in honor of the city’s being the cradle of religious liberty in America, it was presented to the nation in Williamsburg on June 25, 1988, when the first 100 national signers signed it publicly on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Virginia’s call for the Bill of Rights. The stated purpose of the charter is fourfold:
  1. to celebrate the uniqueness of the First Amendment religious liberty clauses;
  2. to reaffirm religious liberty—or freedom of conscience—for citizens of all faiths and none;
  3. to set out the place of religious liberty within American public life;
  4. to define the guiding principles by which people with deep differences can contend robustly but civilly in the public arena.
The National Museum of American Religion is using the Williamsburg Charter as the touchstone for its efforts to teach the museum visitor about the history and salience of American’s religious liberty clauses. We have a broad and diverse group of religious freedom scholars who serve on the Board of Advisors, who will assist the Clearinghouse in establishing programming to meet its purpose.

Religious Liberty Subject Matter Experts

  • Cole Durham – Law Professor and Director, International Center for Law and Religion Studies, BYU Law School
  • Dr. Thomas Farr – Director, Religious Freedom Project, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; Associate Professor of Religion and International Affairs, Georgetown University
  • Dr. Robert P. George – McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence; Director, James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University
  • Leslie C. Griffin – William S. Boyd Professor of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law
  • Dr. Charles Haynes -Vice President, Newseum Institute; Executive Director, Religious Freedom Center; and Senior Scholar, First Amendment Center
  • Dr. Zuhdi Jasser – President, American Islamic Forum for Democracy; Vice-Chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
  • Douglas Laycock – Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor, University of Virginia School of Law; Professor of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
  • Daniel Mach – Director, ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief
  • Michael McConnell – Richard & Frances Mallery Professor, Stanford Law School; Director, Stanford Constitutional Law Center; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution
  • Anthony Picarello, Jr. – Associate General Secretary & General Counsel, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • Eric Rassbach – Deputy General Counsel, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
  • Marc Stern – Associate General Counsel for Legal Advocacy, American Jewish Committee
  • J. Brent Walker – Executive Director, Baptist Joint Committee