If we use Amazon’s date for it, at least the date that is there this morning, today is the publication date for Freedom of Religion and the Secular State. In practice, the book will be available at slightly different times in different countries. I see that Amazon UK actually has a date of January 6 on its site.
Briefly, what the book is – Freedom of Religion and the Secular State deals with many of the hot-button issues that arise when religion and politics meet. It examines the nature of religion and secularism, and the classical idea of liberalism. It does so in historical and philosophical context, as I actually defend an updated version of Locke’s arguments in his Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), while applying these in ways that Locke would not necessarily find palatable.
What the book is not – it is not an anti-religious book, even though I am openly an atheist and have argued forthrightly in favour of atheism elsewhere. The main arguments of the book should appeal to many religious people as well as to secular humanists and other non-believers. Indeed, Locke was himself a religious believer. The arguments and views should be acceptable to moderate and liberal Protestants and many of the arguments should even be acceptable to relatively conservative Protestants. They will not be acceptable to someone who strictly follows the Vatican line on freedom of religion, but many Catholics will be able to accept them anyway (since many Catholics don’t strictly follow the Vatican line on anything!). Likewise, many moderate religious people from other traditions will be able to accept their premises and adopt their conclusions. Conversely, some hard-line anti-theists will probably think that I am “soft” on certain issues.
It all comes down to how you regard the role of the state, taking into account its history and various philosophical arguments about state power. In particular, what role should the state have in relation to teachings about an otherwordly realm, spiritual transformations, and the like?
The other thing that the book is not is a proof all the way down that the state should be essentially secular – i.e., guided by this-worldly considerations. I don’t claim that the arguments will be intellectually compelling to all comers, irrespective of their initial premises (which may be theological ones). Some people would not be able to accept the arguments in the book without first abandoning their current theological positions (not necessarily becoming non-believers, but at least adopting theological views more congenial to a functional separation of spiritual teachings and state power). In my opinion, that is inevitable. I don’t think that we are ever likely to find arguments that work all the way down in this sense, at least not arguments relating to issues of this sort.
We can, however, find arguments that ought to be persuasive to many people with a variety of worldviews. Or so it seems to me, and I hope to you.