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Brennan and Religion, 95 California Law Review 2193 (2007)


Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. cared deeply about religion in America. He was not a secularist who cavalierly dismissed religion or who viewed it with barely-concealed contempt. Brennan's respect for the intensity of American religious life convinced him that religion raised enormous constitutional complexities that had to be addressed with caution and delicacy. Questions of religion were easiest for Brennan when formulated in terms of the rights of individuals freely to exercise their religious convictions. Rights to religious freedom were in this dimension like all fundamental individual rights; they were to be accorded the utmost respect. Even today, Brennan's opinion in Sherbert v. Verner remains a canonical decision for those who believe that Free Exercise rights should receive the highest degree of constitutional protection. Brennan maintained his commitment to the rights established by the Free Exercise Clause throughout his career, as is well evidenced by his late dissent in Goldman v. Weinberger.

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