On June 9, 1789, Congressman James Madison from Virginia introduced into the House of Representatives a list of proposed amendments to the Constitution that ultimately became what we now know as the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Many of the states had ratified the Constitution provisionally, stating that there must be amendments specifying certain rights against the government or they might withdraw their support. Madison's list represented his wording of the amendments that many states wanted. But one proposed amendment represented Madison's own idea, not proposed by any state. This amendment provided that the states must ensure freedom of the press and speech, trial by jury, and “equal rights of conscience.” Freedom of the press and trial by jury are fairly easily understood. But what does a “right of conscience” mean?

Richard Sorabji's learned and important new work, Moral Conscience through the Ages, is the...

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