Skip to main content

Liberty, as Lord Acton has said, “is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization.”  It’s progress is always beset, Lord Acton goes on to warn, by its natural enemies.  The present age is no exception with battles over religious freedom raging in the culture and in the courts.  There are those in public discourse who frame religious liberty as a tool of oppression—a clever guise designed to protect the status of the powerful at the expense of the powerless.  There are notable examples across the United States of attempts to strip religious symbols from the public square and of state action that crosses the boundary of the citizen’s conscience.  While protection for this first freedom is enshrined in the Constitution, the justification for guaranteeing it has older and deeper roots.  When civilizations protect the rights of men and women to orient their lives in accordance with their sincerely held beliefs, they flourish socially, economically, and culturally.  This colloquium will explore the natural law justification for cultivating and protecting religious freedom. 

All participants will receive and will be expected to read J. Daryl Charles’s Natural Law and Religious Freedom: The Role of Moral First Things in Grounding and Protecting the First Freedom. Discussion will be led by Dr. Daryl Charles, an affiliate scholar in Christian ethics at the Acton Institute.

J. Daryl Charles photo
J. Daryl Charles, Ph.D.
Acton Institute

Affiliate Scholar in Theology and Ethics

J. Daryl Charles, Ph.D. is the Acton Institute Affiliated Scholar in Theology & Ethics. He also is a contributing editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy and the journal Touchstone and is an affiliated scholar of the John Jay Institute. Charles is author, co-author, or editor of eighteen books, including Natural Law and Religious Freedom (Routledge, 2018), (with David D. Corey) The Just War Tradition: An Introduction (ISI Books, 2012), (with David B. Capes) Thriving in Babylon (Pickwick, 2011), Retrieving the Natural Law: A Return to Moral First Things (Eerdmans, 2008), and most recently, (with Mark David Hall) America’s Wars and the Just War Tradition: A History of U.S. Conflicts (University of Notre Dame Press, 2019) and Wisdom’s Work: Essays on Ethics, Vocation, and Cultural Engagement (Acton Institute Press, 2019).

Charles has taught at Taylor University and Union University, served as director of the Bryan Institute for Critical Thought & Practice, was a 2013/14 visiting professor in the honors program at Berry College, and served as a 2007/8 William B. Simon visiting fellow in religion and public life at the James Madison Program, Princeton University, as well as the 2003/4 visiting fellow of the Institute for Faith and Learning, Baylor University. The focus of Charles’ research and writing is religion and society, Christian social ethics, the just war tradition, and the natural law. Prior to entering the university classroom, Charles did public policy work in criminal justice in Washington, DC.

Wilfred M. McClay, Ph.D.
Wilfred M. McClay, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma

G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty

Wilfred M. McClay is the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty at the University of Oklahoma, and the Director of the Center for the History of Liberty. His book The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America was awarded the Merle Curti Award of the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American intellectual history.

Among his other books are The Student’s Guide to U.S. History, Religion Returns to the Public Square: Faith and Policy in America, Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past, and Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Public Life in Modern America. His latest work, Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, will be published by Encounter Books this year.

He was appointed in 2002 to membership on the National Council on the Humanities, the advisory board for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and served in that capacity for eleven years. He has been appointed to the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission, which is planning events for the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Academy of Education.

He is a graduate of St. John’s College (Annapolis) and received his Ph.D. in History from the Johns Hopkins University.

Kelly Shackelford
Kelly Shackelford, Esq.
First Liberty Institute

President and CEO

Kelly Shackelford, Esq., is President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, the largest legal firm in the nation dedicated exclusively to protecting religious freedom for all Americans. He has served in this role since 1997, leading First Liberty’s efforts to defend religious freedom in the courts and in the public arena. Under his leadership, First Liberty’s legal team has participated in cases before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts of appeals, federal district courts and various state courts, where they have won more than 90 percent of their cases.

Shackelford is a constitutional scholar who has argued before the United States Supreme Court, testified before the U.S. House and Senate, and has won a number of landmark First Amendment and religious liberty cases.

He was recently named one of the 25 greatest Texas lawyers of the past quarter-century by Texas Lawyer and is the recipient of the prestigious William Bentley Ball Award for Life and Religious Freedom Defense for pioneering work protecting religious freedom.

Shackelford is a highly sought-after speaker and frequent guest on national news and talk shows including Good Morning America, The Today Show, The O’Reilly Factor, CNN, Fox and Friends, MSNBC, andHannity. He also has been featured in the National Law Journal, Associated Press, The New York Times, The Washington Times, The Washington Post, and The L.A. Times, and many others.

Shackelford is on the Board of Trustees of the United States Supreme Court Historical Society and earned his law degree from Baylor University.

Event Details

Start Date

End Date


First Liberty Institute
2001 W Plano Pkwy #1600
Plano, TX 75075
United States


The colloquium will begin with dinner and an opening address at 6:00 pm on Thursday, May 9. It will conclude at 4:30 pm on Friday, May 10. More detailed schedule to come.


This colloquium is open to all applicants, but especially suited to graduate students, academics, lawyers, and other practitioners.  All accepted applicants will receive a $400 travel stipend to offset expenses of travel to Plano, Texas as well as lodging and all meals for the duration of the event.  Interest is expected to be high, so applications may close earlier than expected.  All accepted applicants must commit to actively participating in the entire event and may not arrive late or leave early.  

More Upcoming Events