Free to Serve

Protecting the Religious Freedom of Faith-Based Organizations

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Christianity Today Book Award Winner

What do Hobby Lobby, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Wheaton College, World Vision, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the University of Notre Dame have in common? All are faith-based organizations that have faced pressure to act in ways contrary to their religious beliefs. In this book, two policy experts show how faith-based groups--those active in the educational, healthcare, international aid and development, and social service fields--can defend their ability to follow their religiously based beliefs without having to jettison the very faith and faith-based practices that led them to provide services to those in need. They present a pluralist vision for religious freedom for faith-based organizations of all religious traditions. The book includes case studies that document the challenges faith-based organizations face to freely follow the practices of their religious traditions and analyzes these threats as originating in a common, yet erroneous, set of assumptions and attitudes prevalent in American society. The book also includes responses by diverse voices--an Orthodox Jew, a Roman Catholic, two evangelicals, two Islamic leaders, and an unbeliever who is a religious-freedom advocate--underscoring the importance of religious freedom for faith-based organizations.

1. A Vision for Our Nation
2. When Religious Organizations Are Said Not to Be Religious
Interlude 1: The Wrong Kind of Christian by Tish Harrison Warren 
3. When Laws and Religious Convictions Clash
4. Can a For-Profit Business Have a Religious Conscience?
Interlude 2: Religious Liberty Is Who We Are by Kristina Arriaga de Buchholz
5. Common Threads
6. Free to Serve: Living with Our Differences
Interlude 3: Will Pluralism Survive the Death of Relativism? by Kim Colby
7. Free to Serve: Faith-Based Organizations in the Public Realm
8. Five Questions
9. Religious Freedom Supports the Common Good: Three Non-Christian Voices
10. How Faith-Based Organizations Can Protect Their Religious Freedom
Selected Resources


"In our pluralistic society, the only way we can get along with one another is by respecting the rights of groups with whom we don't necessarily agree. This book explains how religious institutions caring for our communities risk losing their character as faith-based organizations. We have to protect the rights of everyone in our society if we are to protect the rights of anyone. This is an important book for our times."

Richard Stearns, president, World Vision US; author of The Hole in Our Gospel and Unfinished

"An excellent, readable book on a crucial topic. The next decade may very well see more ferocious--and hugely important--battles over religious freedom than at any time in recent years. This book is one of the very best guides to the threat and the solution. A must-read for anyone interested in preserving our country's historic stance on religious freedom."

Ronald J. Sider, senior distinguished professor of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy, Palmer Seminary, Eastern University

"Monsma and Carlson-Thies present a timely and compelling case for how the United States can navigate the current changes to social norms by proposing that society value and give equal credence to the ideas of all religions and the non-religious alike. Higher education presents one such successful model. Christian colleges and universities have long been part of a vibrant and diverse community of higher education in the United States. Such a pluralistic model, which has produced the best higher education system in the world, serves as a guide for how a society that is open to free thought, belief, and practice cannot only survive, but thrive."

Shirley V. Hoogstra, JD, president, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities

"Today's complacency is tomorrow's captivity. Religious liberty, one of our God-given rights, stands under unprecedented assault. Free to Serve provides a clarion call and prophetic prescription for those committed to never sacrificing truth on the altar of expediency."

Samuel Rodriguez, president, NHCLC/CONELA, Hispanic Evangelical Association

"Anyone who cares about the state of religious freedom in America should read this book. First Amendment protections for faith-based organizations are undergoing seismic change, pushing us in a dangerous direction. The authors have accurately surveyed the shifting landscape and where our first freedoms may be headed. Free to Serve is a cautionary yet hopeful assessment of the future of religious liberty."

David Nammo, executive director and CEO, Christian Legal Society

"Religious liberty is a first and fundamental freedom that the Constitution intends as protection for all citizens of the United States, whether they are religious or not. Today that freedom is increasingly endangered as intolerance toward Christianity and other religions threatens the mission of faith-based institutions that pursue the common good. In Free to Serve, Stephen Monsma and Stanley Carlson-Thies offer proactive remedies that nourish the hope of principled pluralism and promote a civil society in which people of all faiths, or none, enjoy expansive freedom."

Philip G. Ryken, president, Wheaton College

"Stephen V. Monsma is the dean of social science scholars who study faith-based organizations and Stanley Carlson-Thies is the nation's most passionate yet nuanced public voice for institutional religious freedom. Together they have produced this timely, readable, and intellectually serious book. Whether one embraces or eschews their preferred policy prescriptions, the authors make their case in civic-minded ways that leaven and enlighten our increasingly shrill and polarized church-state discourse."

John J. DiIulio Jr., Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society, University of Pennsylvania; first director, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

"Sobering and significant, Free to Serve outlines the very real threats to religious freedom for all faith-based organizations. If you believe your faith should extend beyond the walls of your place of worship, you simply must read this outstanding book."

Peter Greer, president and CEO, HOPE International; coauthor of Mission Drift

"The threat to religious liberty grows more intense, even as the debate over the meaning of religious freedom escalates. Monsma and Carlson-Thies speak into this critical moment, unveiling errors in the four common faith-based assumptions of our day. Free to Serve examines the unintended consequences of violating religious freedom and offers hope for a society where individual beliefs are fully expressed and diversity in those beliefs is respected and protected."

Tami Heim, president and CEO, Christian Leadership Alliance

"Free to Serve is an important and timely book. The authors' call to principled pluralism--allowing divergent religious groups latitude to live out the implications of their faith in the public square--is a vital message. Cultural pressure to privatize faith to the narrow sphere of the sacraments is bad news not only for people of faith, but for our nation as a whole."

Alec Hill, president, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA

The Authors

  1. Stephen V. Monsma
    Paul Stoub

    Stephen V. Monsma

    Stephen V. Monsma (1936-2017; PhD, Michigan State University) was a senior research fellow at the Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin University and professor emeritus of political science at Pepperdine University. He...

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  2. Stanley W. Carlson-Thies

    Stanley W. Carlson-Thies

    Stanley W. Carlson-Thies (PhD, University of Toronto) is director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, a division of the Center for Public Justice (CPJ), in Washington, DC. He is a senior fellow at CPJ and at the Canadian think tank Cardus. He...

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Christianity Today 2016 Book Award Winner

"Religious liberty is on a collision course with prevailing moral and legal sensibilities, posing immediate dangers to Christian institutions. Monsma and Carlson-Thies address the problem with well-calibrated expertise. Religious liberty desperately needs defending as a matter of public policy, and Free to Serve shows how it's done."

Hunter Baker,

Christianity Today

"One will find no more resolute or eloquent advocates for the First Amendment protections of religious organizations than Messrs. Monsma and Carlson-Thies. . . . While their effort may not sway hard core partisans on either side, one wishes this book could be made required reading for the lawmakers, bureaucrats, and jurists responsible for navigating this deeply contentious topic. . . . The clarity and integrity of the book's call for a genuine, and all too rare, pluralism make it a worthy final testimony to an impressive and honorable career of scholarship and public service by the late Stephen Monsma."

David K. Ryden,

Journal of Church and State

"This book is research-based, detailed, and informative. It's the product of a diverse group of contributors from different branches of the faith. . . . The book gives a good perspective on how to take a faith-based approach toward public policy. I would recommend it for anyone interested in business law and human resource managers."

Dave Baker,

CBA Retailers + Resources

"[The authors] bring their rich life experience from academia, public policy research, politics and personal Christian faith to the discussion of religious freedom for faith-based organizations. Readers will find this book helpful in understanding how current cultural and political beliefs are undermining our historic national commitments to religious liberty. . . . More importantly, Monsma and Carlson-Thies outline a compelling vision for the integration of religious freedom, pluralism and tolerance in the public square and practical strategies for faith-based organizations to continue their valuable contributions to civil society while maintaining their religious convictions."

Kathy Vaselkiv,

CCCU Advance