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Mere sincerity
  1. Edward Collins Vacek
  1. Department of Religious Studies, Loyola University New Orleans, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor SJ Edward Collins Vacek, Department of Religious Studies, Loyola University New Orleans, 6363 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70018, USA; evacek{at}

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First Amendment issues have long bedevilled American jurisprudence. There are several areas of Professor Oderberg's fine paper where the witches are bewitching and where I find myself in disagreement with him. I choose to focus on what he calls ‘mere sincerity’. He worries that this sincerity leads to absurdity, but he fails to appreciate why it also protects central moral concerns.

The basic issue Oderberg addresses is whether and how the state should avoid forcing people to do what those people think is wrong. On the one hand, the state could say, ‘You will not be required to do “whatever” you personally believe is wrong. Thus, if you sincerely think taxes are wrong, you are not required to pay them.’ On the other hand, the state could say, ‘Whatever you think about the ethics of taxes is irrelevant. Rather, you must pay.’

It is a matter of indifference to the government why one pays taxes, whether sincerely out of a sense of social justice or merely out of fear. But problems arise when people have moral or religious objections for not complying with government mandates. In religious and conscience matters, the gravitational pull of absolutisms tends to rip actions out of government control. As Jesus's disciples protested: …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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