Interpreting the Free Exercise of Religion: The Constitution and American Pluralism

By Bette Novit Evans | Go to book overview

the court held that the state-protected religious rights of the landlord out- weighed the state interest in protecting unmarried couples. 62


Diffuse Religious Activities and Free Exercise Principles

Most religions seek ultimately to sacralize the "secular" -- that is, to provide transcendental meanings for the ordinary occurrences of life and to prescribe norms for living in accordance with transcendent values. Some of these norms are perceived as choices, some as obligations, but all help fulfill the human need to make the world comprehensible. The absence of these meanings is the misery of anomie; the unity of meanings is the totalitarian ideal. Between these extremes lies the pluralist vision, a society encompassing a multiplicity of meanings. However, when the different approaches to meanings are diffused throughout ordinary life, they challenge us to decide how much plurality a society can sustain. Is accommodation of religiously motivated labor practices too complicated to administer equitably? Is accommodation of the government bureaucracy to individual spiritual needs too costly and too divisive? The principle of fostering diverse sources of meaning does not require rejecting the need for common ones. Ultimately, the pluralist account provides direction but not concrete solutions. The concrete controversies we have seen make us recall that even the best abstract principles serve only as guides, not as algorithms.


CONCLUSIONS

Our survey of controversial religious practices confirms the common understanding that the Free Exercise Clause is essentially a protection for religious minorities. None of the cases discussed here was brought by a dominant religious group -- groups presumably able to protect themselves within the majoritarian political process. Claimants here were Fundamentalist Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, and some very marginal groups.

This survey also conveys a striking absence of any unifying approach to religious exercise. The courts' inability to provide a coherent perspective reflects the genuine difficulty of protecting religious practices in a religiously plural society where the very definition of a religious activity lacks consensus. The range of personal religious convictions and the practices they mandate seem almost infinite, raising an endless potentiality of Free Exercise claims. The advantage of the pluralist account is that it enables us to recognize religious practices in a multitude of settings and to appreciate their significance for both the individual practitioner and society as a whole.

My simple typology directs attention to the context of a religiously man-

-119-

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Interpreting the Free Exercise of Religion: The Constitution and American Pluralism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1- The Search for Principles 11
  • 2- Definitions of Religion Under The Free Exercise Clause 46
  • 3- Burdens to Religious Beliefs 76
  • 4- The Nature of Religious Exercises 98
  • CONCLUSIONS 119
  • 5- The Autonomy of Religious Institutions 121
  • 6- Threats to Religious Identity 168
  • 7- Burdens on Religious Exercise 182
  • 8- Accommodating, Exempting, and Balancing: Religious Freedom and the Political Process 204
  • 9- The Pluralist Theory of Free Exercise 228
  • Conclusion 246
  • Notes 247
  • CHAPTER 9 285
  • Index 289
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