Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality. By Martha C. Nussbaum. New York: Basic Books. 2008. Pp. 406. $28.95.
Understanding and crafting an American jurisprudence of religious freedom is tough sledding. The religion clauses of the First Amendment—addressing establishment and free exercise—can seem to point in opposing directions. Any ascertainable wall of separation between church and state is thin, and uneven, and evolving, and permeable. We have embraced practices, historically, that seem difficult to square with meaningful interpretations of our asserted strictures. Many bemoan efforts to limit religious discourse and symbolism in a democratic public sphere, and the standards we employ are conceded to be “in nearly total disarray.” Some of our most thoughtful scholars despair of doctrinal improvement. The merger of public and religious power has become an increasing focus of our electoral and political contests. Our populace, meantime, grows dramatically more religiously diverse. And, in the broader world, the clash of sectarian combatants continues to blossom, as the appearance of effective solutions subsides.