Religion And Political Theory: Liberal Critics of the Doctrine of Religious Restraint


In the last section, we
considered three
arguments for the DRR
and responses to them
offered by the liberal
critics. In the course of
our discussion, we
began to see elements
of the view that liberal
critics of the standard
view—critics such as
Michael Perry, Philip
Quinn, Jeffrey Stout,
and Nicholas
Wolterstorff—endorse.
To get a better feel for
why liberal critics of
the standard view
reject the DRR, it will be
helpful to step back for
a moment to consider
some important
features of their view.
Earlier we indicated
that liberal critics of
the standard view
offer detailed replies to
both the Argument from
Religious Warfare and
the Argument from
Divisiveness. Still,
friends of the standard
view may worry that
there is something
deeply problematic
about these replies.
For by allowing citizens
to support coercive
laws on purely
religious grounds, they
permit majorities to
impose their religious
views on others and
restrict the liberties of
their fellow citizens. But
it is important to see
that no liberal critic of
the standard position
adopts an “anything
goes” policy toward
the justification of
state coercion.
Citizens, according to
these thinkers, should
adhere to several
constraints on the
manner in which they
support coercive laws,
including the following.
First, liberal critics of
the standard view
assume that citizens
should support basic
liberal commitments
such as the rights to
religious freedom,
equality before the law,
and private property.
Michael Perry argues,
for example, “that the
foundational moral
commitment of liberal
democracy is to the
true and full humanity
of every person—and
therefore, to the
inviolability of every
person—without regard
to race, sex,
religion… .” This
commitment, Perry
continues, is “the
principal ground of
liberal democracy’s
further commitment to
certain basic human
freedoms” that are
protected by law (Perry
[13]2003, 36). More
generally, liberal critics
maintain that citizens
should support only
those coercive laws
that they reasonably
believe further the
common good and are
consistent with the
demands of justice.
These commitments,
they add, are not in
tension with the claim
that citizens may
support coercive laws
that they believe to
lack a plausible secular
rationale. So long as a
citizen is firmly
committed to basic
liberal rights, she may
coherently and without
impropriety do so even
though she regards
these laws as having
no plausible secular
justification. More
generally, liberal critics
of the DRR maintain that
a citizen may rely on
her religious
convictions to
determine which
policies further the
cause of justice and
the common good and
may support coercive
laws even if she
regards them as
having no plausible
secular rationale.
Second, liberal critics
of the standard view
lay down constraints
on the manner in which
citizens arrive at their
political commitments
(see Eberle 2002,
Weithman 2002, and
Wolterstorff 1997). So,
for example, each
citizen should abide by
certain epistemic
requirements: precisely
because they ought not
to support coercive
laws that violate the
requirements of justice
and the common good,
citizens should take
feasible measures to
determine whether the
laws they support are
actually just and good.
In order to achieve
that aim, citizens
should search for
considerations
relevant to the
normative propriety of
their favored laws,
weigh those
considerations
judiciously, listen
carefully to the
criticisms of those who
reject their normative
commitments, and be
willing to change their
political commitments
should the balance of
relevant
considerations require
them to do so. Again,
liberal critics deny that
even the most
conscientious and
assiduous adherence
to such constraints
precludes citizens from
supporting coercive
laws that require a
religious rationale. No
doubt, those who
support coercive laws
that require a religious
rationale might do so in
an insular,
intransigent, irrational,
or otherwise defective
manner. But, liberal
critics insist, they need
not do so and, thus,
their religiously-
grounded support for
coercive laws need not
be defective.
Third, critics of the
standard view need
have no aversion to
secular justification
and so need not object
to a state of affairs in
which each person,
secular or religious,
has what he or she
regards as a
compelling reason to
endorse coercive laws
of various sorts.
(Indeed, they claim that
such a state of affairs
would arguably be a
significant moral
achievement—a good
for all concerned.)
According to the liberal
critics, however, what
is most important is
that parity reigns: any
normative constraint
that applies to the
reasons on the basis
of which citizens make
political decisions must
apply impartially to
both religious and
secular reasons. Many
secular reasons
employed to justify
coercion—ones that
appeal to
comprehensive
perspectives such as
utilitarianism and
Kantianism, for
example—are highly
controversial; in this
sense, they aritics, if we
accept the claim that:
If a religious
citizen finds
herself in a
position in which
she has
excellent
reason to
believe that she
cannot convince
a fellow secular
citizen to
support a
coercive law
that she deems
just by appeal
to religious
reasons, then
she should do
her best to
appeal to
secular reasons
—reasons that
her cohort may
find
persuasive;
we should also accept:
If a secular
citizen finds
herself in a
position in which
she has
excellent
reason to
believe that she
cannot convince
a fellow
religious citizen
to support a
coercive law
that she deems
just by appeal
to secular
reasons, then
she should do
her best to
appeal to
religious
reasons—
reasons that
her cohort may
find persuasive.
Exercising parity of
this sort, according to
the liberal critics, lies
at the heart of what it
is to be a good citizen
of a liberal democracy.
For being a good
citizen involves
respecting one’s fellow
citizens, even when
one disagrees with
them. In a wide range
of cases, however, an
agent exercises
respect not by treating
her interlocutor as a
generic human being or
a generic citizen of a
liberal democracy, but
by treating her as a
person who has a
particular narrative
identity and life
history, say, as an
African American, a
Russian immigrant, or a
Muslim citizen. But
doing this often
requires pursuing and
appealing to
considerations that it is
likely that one’s
interlocutors with their
own particular
narrative identity will
find persuasive. And
depending on the case,
these reasons may be
exclusively religious.
To this we should add
a clarification: strictly
speaking, the liberal
critics’ insistence on
parity between the
pursuit of secular and
religious reasons is
consistent with the DRR.
For, as we have
construed it, the DRR
allows that religious
citizens may support
coercive laws for
religious reasons (so
long as they have and
are prepared to
provide a plausible
secular justification for
these laws). And while
its advocates do not
typically emphasize the
point, the DRR permits
secular citizens to
articulate religious
reasons that will
persuade religious
believers to accept the
secular citizens’
favored coercive laws
(for reservations
about this practice, see
Audi 1997, 135-37 on
“leveraging reasons”).
Still, the DRR implies
that there is an
important asymmetry
between the
justificatory role
played by religious and
secular reasons. To
this issue we now turn

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