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Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equalityby Martha Nussbaum
Synopses & Reviews
In one of the great triumphs of the colonial and Revolutionary periods, the founders of the future United States overcame religious intolerance in favor of a constitutional order dedicated to fair treatment for peoples deeply held conscientious beliefs. It granted equal liberty of conscience to all and took a firm stand against religious establishment. This respect for religious difference, acclaimed scholar Martha Nussbaum writes, formed our democracy. Yet today there are signs that this legacy is misunderstood. The prominence of a particular type of Christianity in our public life suggests the unequal worth of citizens who hold different religious beliefs, or no beliefs. Other people, meanwhile, seek to curtail the influence of religion in public life in a way that is itself unbalanced and unfair. Such partisan efforts, Nussbaum argues, violate the spirit of our Constitution. Liberty of Conscience is a historical and conceptual study of the American tradition of religious freedom. Weaving together political history, philosophical ideas, and key constitutional cases, this is a rich chronicle of an ideal of equality that has always been central to our history but is now in serious danger.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
From one of America's most distinguished moral philosophers, a sweeping historically based argument that equal respect for all citizens is the bedrock of America's tradition of religious freedom
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 Americas great tradition of religious freedom. Philosopher Martha Nussbaums ambitious book is both a work of history and a pointed rejoinder to conservative efforts to break down barriers between church and state.
About the Author
Martha C. Nussbaum holds appointments in the Philosophy Department, Law School, and Divinity School at the University of Chicago. She is the author of thirteen previous books. Her Cultivating Humanity won the 2002 Grawemeyer Award for Education. She holds thirty honorary degrees from universities around the world. She lives in Chicago and Cambridge.
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