Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equality

Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equality

by Martha Nussbaum
     
 

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The respect for religious difference has formed the bedrock of our nation and made equality possible. Yet today we are told that “moral values”—code for a government shaped by religious concerns—must be the keystone of our social compact.

A rich and compelling chronicle of an essential idea, Liberty of Conscience tells the story of

Overview

The respect for religious difference has formed the bedrock of our nation and made equality possible. Yet today we are told that “moral values”—code for a government shaped by religious concerns—must be the keystone of our social compact.

A rich and compelling chronicle of an essential idea, Liberty of Conscience tells the story of America’s great tradition of religious freedom. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s ambitious book is both a work of history and a pointed rejoinder to conservative efforts to break down barriers between church and state.

Editorial Reviews

Emily Bazelon
…[a] grand and penetrating discourse on religion and American law…As a teacher and scholar of law, philosophy and religion at the University of Chicago, [Nussbaum] brings the insights of each discipline to bear on the others. And because she's attuned to the "springs of conscience" that well up from faith—Nussbaum left the Episcopal Church for Reform Judaism when she married—she can analyze some of the Supreme Court's recent jurisprudence on religion with sympathy rather than disdain for the enterprise of accommodation. She's no atheist, she's no evangelical, and she's still worried…Nussbaum's contribution is to show vividly how the equality tradition leads the court, and the rest of us, to ask the right questions. As she understands, this is what we can ask of the law.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In this engrossing history of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, Nussbaum (Cultivating Humanity) makes a strong, thoroughgoing case for America as a haven of religious liberty for believers of all stripes. Beginning with an illuminating rehabilitation of Rhode Island founder Roger Williams as America's earliest defender of religious equality, Nussbaum continues by examining how Williams's ideals have been both upheld and abandoned throughout the nation's history. After detailing the adoption of the establishment and free exercise clauses, Nussbaum comments at length on how these fairly general, vague clauses have been fleshed out by more than two centuries of case law. Refreshingly, Nussbaum does not add to the acrimonious cacophony around the idea of separation of church and state. Rather than pushing for strict separation, she argues for what philosopher John Rawls calls "overlapping consensus," which echoes Williams's belief that citizens who differ greatly on matters of ultimate meaning can still agree to respect each other's liberty of conscience. Nussbaum writes engagingly and with generosity; her critiques, particularly those of opinions written by Justices Scalia and Thomas, are pointed but respectful, and she demonstrates warm regard for Supreme Court plaintiffs who have braved persecution as they have followed the dictates of conscience. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

The United States' tradition of religious liberty, based on accommodation of the religious conscience and government neutrality toward religious viewpoints, is a conception that Europeans would do well to adopt-and one Americans should take care to preserve. In surveying the contentious topic of religion's constitutional place in American life, philosopher Nussbaum (law, Univ. Chicago; Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education) always keeps before readers what is at stake for the various constituencies: religious minorities, the nonreligious, and the larger majority society. After tracing the origins of American church-state doctrine, she examines the key topics of constitutional law on religion in its free exercise and nonestablishment forms. Grounding religious liberty in the concept of equality rather than as a separation doctrine, she is critical of "originalist" arguments based on "historical misunderstanding and philosophical error" that she believes would publicly privilege Protestant Christianity. This is an excellent analysis for the general reader, offering more depth than Noah Feldman's Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem-and What We Should Do About Itwithout the scholastic detail of Kent Greenawalt's Religion and the Constitution: Free Exercise and Fairness.
—Steve Young

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780786721948
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
02/05/2008
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
416
File size:
618 KB

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Meet the Author

Martha Nussbaum, one of the leading moral philosophers of our time, holds appointments in the Law School, Divinity School, and Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago and is a board member in the university’s Human Rights Program. She is the author of twelve previous books on philosophy and ethics. Her book Cultivating Humanity won the Grawemeyer Award for Education. The recipient of twenty-two honorary degrees from universities around the world, she lives in Chicago, Illinois.

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