The Corner

Natural Law

Conscience Rights Are the Bedrock of All Liberty

The Statue of Liberty (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

David writes about the way in which conscience rights are covered in the press — specifically, about the way in which they are forced into ignominious quotation marks or attached to disparaging qualifiers such as “so-called.” As he observes, the reflexive view within the media is that anyone talking about their “conscience” must be a “bigot” or a “misogynist” who is engaged in an “elaborate scheme.”

I would like to know when this trend started, and where our betters expect that it will end. Although our present fights over conscience often involve religious belief, it is by no means the case that “conscience” is synonymous with “religious belief.” On the contrary: The idea of conscience rights is indispensable to a free society whether that society is religious or not. Prohibitions against forced speech represent protections of conscience. Anti-censorship rules represent protections of conscience. So, inter alia, do rules that protect anti-war protestors and Pride Month marchers, statutes that create avenues for whistleblowers, and our cultural preference for a volunteer army. As NR’s resident heathen, I am — and I should be — every bit as invested in the maintenance of conscience rights as the most devoutly Catholic of my colleagues. Why? Two reasons. First, because I am a classical liberal and pluralist, and because one can have neither classical liberalism nor pluralism without conscience rights. Second, because I do not know at what point I myself will need to assert my own conscience against a majority that is trying to compel me to violate it. I have read enough history to know that the individual is never safe forever.

It will horrify most of its members to hear this, but it seems pretty clear to me that, far from being a repository of tolerance and enlightened thought, our media is made up mostly of people who deeply dislike the eccentrics and rebels and dissenters in our society, and who wish to wound them and to push them to the margins whenever they are able. This approach is extraordinarily myopic, of course, but it is real nevertheless — and to the extent that when, in a century or so, we come to look back and wonder why our culture simply gave up on trying to accommodate its heretics, we will have an easy answer at our fingertips: Because the people who were charged with reporting on a vast, boisterous, diverse, and free country decided that the prerequisites to liberty were not the trellis upon which the national garden might grow, but a sinister plot to be uncovered and crushed.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

The March for Life Is a March for Truth

Pro-lifers are marching today, as they do every year, to commemorate a great evil that was done in January 1973 and to express solidarity with its innocent victims. The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade eliminated legal protections for unborn children in all 50 states, and did so without any ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The March for Life Is a March for Truth

Pro-lifers are marching today, as they do every year, to commemorate a great evil that was done in January 1973 and to express solidarity with its innocent victims. The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade eliminated legal protections for unborn children in all 50 states, and did so without any ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Clarence Thomas Speaks

Those who know Justice Clarence Thomas say that any perception of him as dour or phlegmatic couldn't be more off-base. He's a charming, gracious, jovial man, full of bonhomie and easy with a laugh, or so I'm told by people who know him well. On summer breaks he likes to roam around the country in an RV and stay ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Clarence Thomas Speaks

Those who know Justice Clarence Thomas say that any perception of him as dour or phlegmatic couldn't be more off-base. He's a charming, gracious, jovial man, full of bonhomie and easy with a laugh, or so I'm told by people who know him well. On summer breaks he likes to roam around the country in an RV and stay ... Read More
White House

On the Bidens, Schiff Opened the Door

You opened the door. Trial lawyers live in fear of that phrase. When a trial starts, both sides know what the allegations are. Both have had enough discovery to know what the adversary will try to prove. Just as significantly, both know what their own vulnerabilities are. A litigator spends his pretrial ... Read More
White House

On the Bidens, Schiff Opened the Door

You opened the door. Trial lawyers live in fear of that phrase. When a trial starts, both sides know what the allegations are. Both have had enough discovery to know what the adversary will try to prove. Just as significantly, both know what their own vulnerabilities are. A litigator spends his pretrial ... Read More
U.S.

Nadler’s Folly

Jerry Nadler must have missed the day in law school where they teach you about persuasion. The House Democrat made a critical error early in the trial of President Trump. He didn’t just say that Republican senators, who voted to begin the proceedings without calling witnesses, were part of a cover-up. He said ... Read More
U.S.

Nadler’s Folly

Jerry Nadler must have missed the day in law school where they teach you about persuasion. The House Democrat made a critical error early in the trial of President Trump. He didn’t just say that Republican senators, who voted to begin the proceedings without calling witnesses, were part of a cover-up. He said ... Read More
Science & Tech

The Latest Pandemic Threat

I’m worried about the new coronavirus that has broken out in China and spread, albeit as of now in isolated cases, to other countries. Fortunately, the CDC has assessed that the risk of a major outbreak in the United States is low. I hope the risk is indeed low, because the stakes are very high, particularly ... Read More
Science & Tech

The Latest Pandemic Threat

I’m worried about the new coronavirus that has broken out in China and spread, albeit as of now in isolated cases, to other countries. Fortunately, the CDC has assessed that the risk of a major outbreak in the United States is low. I hope the risk is indeed low, because the stakes are very high, particularly ... Read More