Professor David Forte has authored a chapter, titled Conscience and Republican Government, in the just-published book, Contemporary Challenges to Conscience, Aleksander Stepkowski, ed., published by Peter Lang. The book includes contributions from a variety of authors on the challenge of reconciling the state’s claim to uniform application of the law with the individual’s claim to the dictates of conscience.
Professor Forte’s chapter examines the various models, in American political history, for managing this dilemma between absolute state sovereignty and individual conscience. He contends that “there is no single formula of governance that can guarantee the right of conscience,” explaining that the American tradition contains a number of different mechanisms for appropriately protecting individual conscience: (1) infusing the political sovereign with the principles of natural law; (2) limiting political power through divisions of authority; (3) creating regimes of individual rights; and (4) leaving religion a sphere of self-governing independence separate from the sovereign.
“In the end,” Professor Forte concludes, “the struggle for rights of conscience is a struggle to affirm the nature of the human person, his reason, and his liberty.”