Conscience in the Public Square

June 15, 2012

To what extent should religious practices be accommodated in the public square and when must claims of conscience be subordinated to other interests? Should exemptions protect both religious and secular conscience? These questions underlie many current real-world controversies, including the debate over government-mandated contraceptive coverage under the new health care reform law, the decision by Catholic Charities to cease being a public adoption provider in certain states because of the requirement that they be open to placing children with parents regardless of sexual orientation, and pharmacists’ refusals to fill “Plan B” prescriptions. Where are the fault lines and how should legislatures and administrative agencies navigate them? What are the legal limits on granting or denying exemptions based upon religious conscience?