Martha Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America's Tradition of Religious Equality
“Religious fairness has periodically endured challenges throughout [U.S.] history, some subtle and some less subtle, some apparently benign and some violent. People aren’t always content to live with others on terms of mutual respect. So the story of [the American tradition of religious fairness] is also the story of the attacks upon it, as different groups jockey for superiority. What has kept the tradition alive and healthy is continual vigilance against these attacks, which in each new era take on a different concrete form. This book concerns both the tradition and these periodic attacks, and its purpose is both to clarify and warn. Without vigilance, our “fixed star” [of religious fairness] may not be fixed for much longer.” — from Chapter 1, “Introduction: A Tradition under Threat”
The founders of the future United States established a constitutional order that granted equal liberty of conscience to all and took a firm stand against religious establishment. This respect for religious difference, 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. Weaving together political history, philosophical ideas, and key constitutional cases, Liberty of Conscience is a historical and conceptual study of the tradition of religious freedom that has been central to U.S. history.
Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago Law School. She also holds appointments in the Philosophy Department and the Divinity School at the University of Chicago.
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