The Communitarian Conscience
This dissertation examines current legal and moral debates about religious liberty and the sanctity of conscience in light of the Christian tradition’s understanding of both. It is important for strong respect for a pluralistic array of consciences to be grounded internally within the Christian tradition, not just based in secular public reason. This dissertation thus develops a Christian understanding of the conscience that can provide this justification, referred to as the “open communitarian conscience.” Specifically, the dissertation analyzes various understandings of the person within the Christian tradition, explores how these have affected political discussions about religious liberty, including sometimes giving support to an excessive individualism, and shows how there are contrasting understandings in the tradition which can be drawn on to better theorize the person’s relationship to her or his communities. It also develops a pneumatological understanding of the conscience to provide theological support for this personalist anthropology and explains how the conscience can be reconceived to better describe the relationship between a person and their moral actions. The dissertation includes a discussion of six key U.S. Supreme Court cases which address issues pertaining to religious liberty and the religious conscience, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and suggests how an understanding of the open communitarian conscience might shift Christians’ understanding of how best to protect everyone’s rights of conscience while maintaining the First Amendment’s specific protection for rights of free exercise also.