We’ve heard a lot about the political, philosophical, and economic reasons for the American colonies’ decision to declare their independence from Britain and fight what would come to be known as the American Revolution.

The role of religion in that conflict tends to get less recognition. Baylor University history professor Thomas S. Kidd’s recent book, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, fills in some gaps in our historical knowledge.

Among Kidd’s key points is the role evangelicals and Enlightenment-fueled deists played in fighting against government-supported established religion:

Led by evangelicals who had long suffered under the state establishments, and by Enlightenment rationalists like Jefferson who feared government persecution of the evangelical and heterodox alike, the United States became committed to the free practice of religion with no government preferences or funding for denominations.?

Disestablishment hardly reflected government hostility to religion, however. Under the canopy of disestablishment and religious freedom, the churches of America flourished in astounding ways. Whatever Jefferson meant by his “wall of separation,” hardly anyone across the religious spectrum in America believed that separation should entail government antagonism toward religion or the elimination of religious rhetoric or symbols from the political sphere.

Whatever their personal convictions about religion, Patriots typically believed that virtue sustained a republic and that religion was the most common resource that trained people in virtue.

Philosopher and theologian Michael Novak noted similar themes during a February presentation in Raleigh for the John Locke Foundation and Ralph McInerny Center for Thomistic Studies.