Cajka, Peter S. “The Rights of Conscience”, Boston College, 2017. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/bc-ir:107310.
In the 1960s and 1970s American Catholics invoked conscience inordinately. They claimed to possess “sacred rights of conscience.” Catholics produced a thick psychological literature on the “formation of conscience.” They also made clear that conscience could never be handed over to an authority figure, whether in the church or state. The term conscience then became a keyword in the rights discourse of late twentieth century America. This dissertation seeks to explain why Catholics invoked conscience so frequently in the 1960s and 1970s, and it aims to chart how conscience became important to the rights vernacular of the late twentieth century. Catholics invoked conscience frequently in an effort to remain in and expand tradition. The theology of conscience had roots in the thirteenth century work of Thomas Aquinas -- a tradition American Catholics studied in the 1940s and 1950s. This study also shows how the human rights advocates of Amnesty International and a community of mainline Protestants appropriated the Catholic theology of conscience and used it for their own purposes. The 1960s and 1970s, rather than witnessing the end of tradition, facilitated its growth.