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2022

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The New Thoreaus, Mark L. Movsesian Jan 2022

The New Thoreaus, Mark L. Movsesian

Faculty Publications

Fifty years ago, in Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Supreme Court famously indicated that “religion” denotes a communal rather than a purely individual phenomenon. An organized group like the Amish would qualify as religious, the Court wrote, but a solitary seeker like the nineteenth century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau would not. At the time, the question was mostly peripheral; hardly any Americans claimed to have their own, personal religions that would make it difficult for them to comply with civil law. In the intervening decades, though, American religion has changed. One-fifth of us—roughly sixty-six million people—now claim, like Thoreau, to …