Charles McCrary, Washington University in St. Louis | Newberry

Charles McCrary, Washington University in St. Louis

Friday, April 12, 2019

3 to 5pm

Religion and Culture in the Americas Seminar

Conscientious Objectors and Investigatory Secularism

This paper shows how secular agents in the federal judiciary and legislature created standards of religious sincerity in the context of mid-twentieth-century conscientious objector cases. Evidence of sincere belief could be found in individuals only through investigation—“probing a man’s conscience,” as one circuit judge put it—so the judiciary enlisted the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who conducted thousands of investigations, which were then summarized in reports for the courts. This paper analyzes these cases and argues that investigation is a crucially important tactic of secular governance, religious freedom, and the history of “sincerely held religious belief.”

Cost and Registration Information 

Newberry Scholarly Seminars papers are pre-circulated. For a copy of the paper, email scholarlyseminars@newberry.org. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.