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Times Review on Nussbaum, Conscience, Adventism

Still catching up from the weekend here, (one of these days I’ll have time to transcribe my notes from the Elaine Pagels talk) but the Times Sunday Book Review discussed a topic of interest to some (should be more!) Adventists and referenced our 1963 Supreme moment.

Emily Bazelon reviews Martha Nussbaum’s new book: Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religions Equality. Bazelon writes:

As Nussbaum unpacks the court’s interpretation of the Constitution’s free exercise and establishment clauses, her premise is that “equality is the glue that holds the two clauses together.”A longtime enemy of elitism in a variety of guises, she fiercely resists the power of a majority religion, aided and abetted by the state, to create an in-group while subordinating out-groups. Nussbaum anchors the countervailing equality tradition in the writings of Roger Williams and James Madison. Williams, who had extensive friendly dealings with the Narragansett Indians, wrote into the charter for the Rhode Island colony a right to freedom of conscience that shocked the British. He coined the phrase “soule rape” for the limiting of religious expression that does not violate civil law or harm others.

How does Nussbaum apply her equality principle to Supreme Court jurisprudence? She thinks the court avoided the trap that snared Antigone with a 1963 ruling in favor of Adell Sherbert, a Seventh-Day Adventist [sic] fired from her mill job for refusing to work on Saturdays. According to Justice William Brennan’s test, a job requirement violates the right to free exercise when it imposes a “substantial burden” without being justified by a “compelling state interest,” or being narrowly tailored to achieve such an interest.This is the right standard, Nussbaum argues, because it treats religious outliers as the equals of the majority, who weren’t being asked to work on Sunday, their day of rest.

Like our conversation over the Sabbath morning NV Democratic caucus this raises good questions of rights to labor and citizen participation.

Read the whole review.

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