Claims of Conscience

Religious Freedom and State Power

3 May, 2013

William Galston

Is religious conscience special? And what kinds of claims (if any) does conscience warrant? These are two of the many questions Brian Leiter raises in his provocative book Why Tolerate Religion? (Princeton University Press, $24.95, 192 pp.).

Note that in principle one could answer the first question in the negative—by denying the distinctiveness of religion—while endorsing broad claims for conscience as such. Imagine a two-by-two table: In the upper left quadrant is an expansive notion of conscience coupled with a broad conception of conscientious claims; in the bottom right is conscience restricted to religion with few or no claims to which the law must yield. The two remaining quadrants are broad/narrow and narrow/broad, respectively.  [Read more . . .]

Religion: A Public or a Private Right?

Originally appeared in  Public Discourse:  Ethics, Law, and the Common Good
Online journal of the Witherspoon  Institute of Princeton, NJ

 Susan Hanssen*

Twentieth-century religious liberty jurisprudence developed on the far side of a great historic chasm that separates us from the traditional definition of religion. Between Americans in 2012 and the American founders in 1776 stand William James and the beginnings of the “science of comparative religions.” If we are to grasp the founders’ idea of a natural right to religious liberty, we must perform a labor of historical imagination and recover the longstanding definition of religion that has been lost to us.

The classic book that launched the social scientific approach to the study of religion was James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience (1903). The book was initially his series of lectures at the University of Edinburgh—the prestigious Gifford Lectures. James deliberately refused to accept the usual title “Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology” for his series of talks and chose instead to call them lectures in “Natural Religion.” He assumed that religion was not, as the word “theology” implied, subject to any rational justification. Rather, he saw religion as essentially experiential and the study of religion as essentially empirical—the collection of a variety of accounts of wildly divergent spiritual experiences. . . [Read more]

Conscience, authority and moral intuition

The Prosblogion

Alexander Pruss*

. . . Our moral intuitions while being a genuine source of moral knowledge are often distorted by the desire to find  excuses for our own faults or, more excusably, those of
friends. Moral intuitions should not be glorified with the  name “conscience”. . .
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Why ‘public’ should not mean ‘atheist’

The Ottawa Citizen

Iain Benson*

Nothing in our theories or history should support turning religious believers and their communities into second-class citizens when it comes to public involvement and funding. In short, atheism and agnosticism ought not to be favoured public claimants in Canada any longer. . .
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The Clash of Universalisms: Religious and Secular in Human Rights

The Hedgehog Review
Fall, 2007

Abdulaziz Sachedina, PhD.*

The major thrust of Islamic critique of the Declaration, however, is its secularism and its implied hostility to divergent philosophical or religious ideas. . . Perhaps the sore point in the secular human rights discourse, as far as Muslim theoreticians of rights language are concerned, is the total dismissal of anything religious as being an impediment to the modern development of human rights. . . .
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Pluralism, Religion and Public Policy

Preston Manning*

An address delivered at the McGill University conference on Pluralism, Religion and Public Policy.

People of faith – and there are millions of such people in Canada – need guidelines on how to bring faith perspectives to bear on public policy in a winsome rather than an offensive way. And public policy makers in our pluralistic society – many of whom regard faith perspectives with suspicion if not outright hostility – need to learn how to incorporate such perspectives into their deliberations rather than exclude them. . . 
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Christians and civil disobedience

Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

Background Paper

John H. Redekop*


A basic requirement for the functioning of civil society, especially in a democracy, is that citizens, generally speaking, should obey the laws of the land.  Christians and most, if not all, other religious groups accept that principle as an over-arching reality.  The logic is compelling. If citizens, in substantial numbers, would take the law into their own hands and individually decide which laws to obey and which to disobey, then anarchy might result rather quickly.  The theory is clear and essentially true but the practical situation is sometimes more complicated.

What is to be done by responsible and highly moral citizens if certain laws are inherently evil?  What should citizens do if the government of the day pressures them to violate their conscience on a fundamental principle?  What should they do if their government suddenly denies them the most basic of freedoms?  We know from history as well as from the present global situation that Christians often encounter laws which are unjust and simply wrong.  The Christian response is clear. . . [Read on]

There Are No Secular Unbelievers

Centrepoints Spring, 2000

Iain T. Benson*

Mr. Benson draws attention to the erroneous notion that  “secular” means “faith-free”. He argues that this error is  transmitted through the culture and imposed by the courts, thus allowing the “implicit faith” of atheists and agnostics  to dominate and displace all others. “Why,” he asks, “should the opinions of those who don’t know or refuse to articulate what they believe dominate those who can say what they believe in and why they think it matters?” Full Text