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Journal of Religious Ethics, Inc

Rawlsian Liberalism and the Privatization of Religion: Three Theological Objections Considered
Author(s): Paul J. Weithman
Source: The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring, 1994), pp. 3-28
Published by: on behalf of Journal of Religious Ethics, Inc
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RAWLSIAN LIBERALISM AND THE


PRIVATIZATION OF RELIGION
Three TheologicalObjectionsConsidered
Paul J. Weithman
ABSTRACT

Liberal political theorists are often accused of "privatizing"religion; the


work of philosopher John Rawls has been especially subject to this criticism. I begin by examining what is meant by "privatization."I then consider the criticisms of Rawls advanced by Timothy Jackson, David
Hollenbach, and John Langan. I argue (1) that Rawls does not privatize
religion to the extent that his critics believe and (2) that criticisms of
what privatization of religion Rawls does defend cannot be sustained.
It is often

noted

that

the

political

philosophy

of liberalism

emergedas a settlement to the wars of religion consequenton the


ProtestantReformation;the settlementsucceeded,it is said, because
and therebyexcluded
liberalismrequiredthat religionbe "privatized"
from politics. Whateverthe historicalaccuracyof these claims, contemporaryliberalsare oftentaken to task forthe privatizationof religion that their view is said to require. Moraltheologianshave been
especiallyvocalin pressingthis criticismagainst them.
One liberal whose work has been systematicallycriticizedon this
scoreis John Rawls. In this paper,I want to examinethree objections
to Rawls'swork that are prominentin recent criticalliterature and
associatedwith the chargeof privatization.Those objectionsare:
1. ChristianscannotacceptRawls'stheorybecausethere are no religious groundsor argumentsfor the two principlesof justice by
which he thinks society'sbasic structureshouldbe well ordered.
2. Rawls does not allow religiousargumenta place in politicaldiscourseeven aboutmattersless fundamentalthan the principlesof
justice.
3. Rawls privatizesreligion, as the first two objectionsallege, because he acceptsthe mistakenview that religioncan only prove
divisiveif accordeda rolein politics. He thus ignoresthe real possibility of using religion,religious symbols,religious narratives,
3

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Journal of ReligiousEthics
and religiousargumentsto achieve social unity or build political
coalitions.

The first two of these objectionsare heavilyindebtedto the interpretation of Rawlsianliberalismrecentlyofferedby RichardRorty(Rorty
1988). That interpretationhas been extremelyinfluentialamongand
widely cited by moral theologians;I have arguedagainst it at some
length elsewhere (Weithmann.d.) and will not take it up here. Instead, I will contentmyself with two moremodesttasks.
First, I will arguethat all three objectionsmistakethe implications
of Rawls'sliberalism:Rawlswould,in fact, permitreligiousargument
a greaterrole in the politicallife of just liberaldemocraciesthan the
proponentsof these three objectionsseem to believe.1
Second,one of the great strengthsof Rawls'stheoryis the way in
whichit reconcilesthe apparentlyconflictingpoliticalvalues to which
liberalismhas traditionallybeen committed.Amongthese seemingly
conflictingvalues are liberty and equality, liberty and fairness, the
"libertiesof the ancients"and the "libertiesof the moderns"(Rawls
1971, 201), and the goodsof self-interestand impartiality. For present purposes,the balance on which it is most importantto focus is
that betweenthe interestcitizenshave in advancingtheir ownconception of the good,on the one hand,andtheir interestin preservingcivility and mutual respect,on the other. What restrictionson religious
politicaldiscourseRawlswoulddefendgrowdirectlyout of the balance
and orderhe achievesamongthese seeminglycompetingvalues. Criticizing those restrictionsrequires objectingto his claims about the
properbalance,claims that are at the heart of Rawls'stheory.
The criticson whoseworkI will be focusingall professsomesympathy with the theoryand practiceof liberaldemocracy;what they object
to is Rawls'sversionof liberaldemocratictheory. They do so because
of what they take to be its implicationsfor the place of religion in
criticismsof Rawls'stheoryare not,
politicallife. The "privatization"
aimed
at
elements
with which that theorycould
however,
peripheral
liberal democratswhile
Critics
who
want
to
remain
easily dispense.
bear
the
burden
of
either
avoidingprivatization
justifyinga different
balanceof these competingvalues or arguingthat liberalismis not in
fact committedto all the values that Rawls attempts to reconcile.
Since neither of these argumentshas been adequatelymade, I conclude that Rawls'sdevelopmentof liberaltheoryis the best available
1 My thoughts about the subjects addressed in this paper have benefitted enormously from both unpublished work which John Rawls has graciously made available to
me and, most recently, from a prepublicationcopy of Political Liberalism.

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The Privatization of Religion

and that the objections to his restrictions on political discourse cannot


be sustained.
Before laying out or attempting to answer the three objections, I
want briefly to examine the general charge of privatization and show
how it underlies the three objections I have identified.

1. Defining the Problem


The accusation that liberalism privatizes religion has been used to
cover a number of very different objections; differences among the
three I am considering suggest as much. Unfortunately, critics of liberalism rarely make precise exactly what they mean by "privatization"
and its cognates. What unifies the various objections that have gone
by that name is therefore not immediately clear; neither is it clear
why privatization is regarded as a distinctively liberal failure. It is
useful to contrast Rawls's theory with a very different body of political
thought, that of Thomas Aquinas, to clarify what is meant by the
claim that Rawlsian liberalism unduly privatizes religion.
Aquinas considered religion public in that he considered various
goods associated with religion- for example, the good of attaining and
assenting to religious truth and the good of engaging in properly conducted worship of the true God- public goods. He did not regard them
merely as goods to be enjoyed by individuals or by private associations. Still less did he think of them as goods whose value was to be
accounted for by the value that individuals and private associations
attached to them. Rather, he regarded them as intrinsically valuable
goods which (at least under ideal conditions) were to be realized in
and participated in by political society. He also considered them goods
which political power could be used to secure and to make available.
For the purpose of drawing a contrast with Rawls's liberalism, two
aspects of the public character that Aquinas attributed to religious
goods are especially worthy of note. First, Aquinas thought religion
provided intellectual and moral goods on which society could draw.
Religion served as an intellectual resource insofar as religious arguments were used to justify the exercise of public power. Second, Aquinas thought that unity of religious belief and practice were crucial to
the harmony and strength of political society. He therefore held that
political power could licitly be employed to suppress heresy, prevent
the spread of error, and promote the cause of religious truth. He likewise held that political power could properlybe used to suppress idola-

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Journal of ReligiousEthics

try, thereby preventing false forms of worship and promoting


appropriateones.2
In what follows,I will construethe chargethat liberalismprivatizes
religionas the claim that liberalismfails to regardreligiousgoodsas
publicgoodsin these two senses. It fails to regardthem as either intellectual resourcesto be drawnon in politicalargumentor as social
goods which effect harmony. These concernsunderlie,I believe, all
three objections.The first objection(that Rawlsdoes not employreligious argumentsto foundthe fundamentalprinciplesof justice) and
the secondobjection(that neither does he permitthe employmentof
religiousargumentin politicaldiscourseaboutless fundamentalmatters) are both formsof the argumentthat Rawlsianliberalismfails to
regard religion as an intellectual resourceto be publiclyemployed.
The thirdobjectionreflectsthe complaintthat Rawlsfails to recognize
religiousgoodsas publicgoodswhichlend societyunity and strength
and that he premiseshis theory on the belief that religionis a civil
liabilitythat is politicallydivisive. It is objectedthat suchvalue as he
assigns to religionis accountedfor, not by the intellectualor unitive
benefits it conferson politicalsociety,but by the satisfactionit gives
individualsand privateassociations.
I now want to examinethe three criticisms,askingtwo questionsof
their proponents. The first is whether Rawls does indeed privatize
religionin the way that they allege. The secondis whether,if he does,
there are goodargumentsto show that his doingso is objectionable.

2. ReligiousArgumentsfor Principlesof Justice


Rawls has insisted in recentyears that justice as fairnessis a conceptionfoundedon what he calls "fundamentalintuitive ideas"about
freedom,equality,and fairnesslatent in the publiccultureof a democratic society (Rawls 1985, 229). He constructshis conceptionof justice fromthese ideas, refusingto take up the questionof whetherthis
conceptionor the ideas from which it results are true (Rawls 1985,
230). That these ideas are widelyacceptedand deeplyheld by his au2 For the claim that Aquinas thought religious arguments could be used to justify
the exercise of public power, see Summa TheologiaeII-II.11.3. There Aquinas relies on
theological premises to justify the claim that the state may execute heretics. Exegesis
needed to establish that Aquinas thought heresy and idolatry threats to the unity and
strength of political society is somewhat less straightforward. I believe, however, that
Aquinas commits himself to this view by making two other claims. The first is that the
state may execute heretics; the second is his claim at II-II.64.3 that the execution of
evildoers is permissible "insofaras it is ordered to the well-being [salus] of the whole
community."

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The Privatizationof Religion

dienceandthat a conceptionbuilt uponthem can serveas the basis for


informedpublicagreementon matters of justice are, Rawls suggests,
sufficient for his purposes. This emphasis on attaining a working
agreementand this refusal to take up questions of truth- features
whichhave led manyto see in his recentworka turn towardthe pragmatism of John Dewey (Rorty 1988, 260)- have drawn the fire of
moraltheologians. They objectthat the only reasonsthat Rawls now
offersforhis two principlesand the conceptionofjustice in whichthey
are embeddedare reasonsassociatedwith the desire to achievecooperation. Such reasonsare not, so the objectiongoes, reasonsthat can
or ought to move faithfulChristians. Christiansmust have religious
reasons for adoptingprinciplesof justice, but Rawls's recent pragmatic turn preventshim fromofferingany.
2.1 Timothy Jackson's case for religious reasons

TimothyJacksonhas developedthis objectionin his 1991 essay "To


Bedlamand Part Way Back";his statementof it is worthquotingat
some length.
Christians need not demand that others accept a particular political arrangement out of love, but they themselves must do so or they have violated their own integrity. The issue is one of ethics, not merely
psychology: while it may sometimes be permissible to submit to a cognitive impoverishment and act on the basis of less information than one
could in fact command, it is never right to submit to a moral impoverishment and act with less virtue. It is never properto surrender love, even if
it were possible to do this out of love itself - an axiom that might be called
"the priority of agape to political philosophy." It is impossible, therefore,
for Christians to found distributive justice on personal prudence, social
cooperation, and/or the thin sense of the good allowed by the political
Rawls in the original position. These are blueprints for the secular Bedlam, even if motivated by the noble desire to secure public peace [Jackson
1991, 443].

It is crucialto note to what Jacksonis not objecting.He is not objecting that the veil of ignorancesurroundingparties in the original
position prevents them from knowingand acting on their religious
motivations.3That,afterall, wouldnot be an objectionto the Rawlsof
the last ten years, but to the Rawls of A Theoryof Justice. Indeed
Jacksonconcedesthat it "maysometimesbe permissible"to use choice
as a criterionto deunderuncertaintyor "cognitiveimpoverishment"
terminewhich principlesof justice are appropriate,binding,or right.
3 This is an objectiondeveloped by Richard Fern (1987, 42ff.).

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Journal of ReligiousEthics

To say that the employmentof such a criterion"maysometimesbe


permissible"is not, of course,to say that it is always permissibleor
that it is required. In Jackson'sview, what determineswhether its
use is permissibleis the reasonone has for believingin the adequacy
of the criterionand/orfor acting on the principlespickedout by that
criterion.4Jackson argues that the Rawls of the last ten years can
offeronly pragmaticargumentsfor choiceunderthe uncertaintythe
veil imposes. Rawls can now offer,Jacksonclaims, only arguments
premisedon the divisivenessof religiousand philosophicalviews and
on the practicaldesirabilityof abstractingfrom them when arguing
about fundamentalprinciples of justice. Reasons of this sort, he
claims, are not the sort of reasonsin virtue of whichit is permissible
for Christiansto adoptRawls'sprinciples.
This is not because Jackson draws a sharp distinction between
pragmaticand moralreasons. His characterizationof the desire for
publicpeace as "noble"suggests the absenceof any such distinction.
So, too, does his intimation,in the secondsentenceof the quotedpassage, that Rawls implicitlyasks Christiansto act with "less virtue"
ratherthan no virtueat all. Finally,Jacksonconcedesthat the desire
to achieve social cooperationand the associated reasons that one
might have for acceptingRawls'sview might themselvesderivetheir
motivationalforce"outof love itself." That is, Jacksonconcedesfor
the sake of argumentthat Christianlove might move one to attempt
socialcooperationwith otherson a basis of equalityand that one could
adopt Rawls'sprinciplesbecausethey make this possible. However,
he seems to think (forreasonsI will explorein a moment)that a Rawlsian liberal'sonly propermotivefor acceptingand acting on Rawls's
view must be restrictedto the reasonsRawls offersfor acceptinghis
view. Jackson'spointis that even if these reasonsare moralreasons,
they are not the sort of moral reasons on which Christianscan act
without "violating] their integrity."5 Christians, Jackson thinks,
shouldhave theologicalreasonsfor acceptingand actingon principles
chosenin the originalposition. Rawls'sallegedlypragmaticturn and
the privatizationof religionthat his pragmatismdictatespreventhim
fromofferingthem.
4 Jackson's statement of his objection does not make it clear whether he thinks
Rawls offers inadequate reasons for action or inadequate reasons for belief; I will therefore continue to speak of both.
5 In this, Jackson echoes the views of other critics. David Fletcher, for example, says
that "[f]orthe believer who takes her faith to be among the very most significant features of her being, [Rawls's theory] seems impossible, impious or both. How can I be
expected to 'pretend'that I am not a Christian?"(Fletcher 1990, 238).

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The Privatizationof Religion

2.2 Diversityin the overlappingconsensus


Jackson'sobjectionrests upon two crucial premises. One is that
Christiansmust always"accepta particularpoliticalarrangementout
of love";Christians,he remarksenigmatically,ought not "surrender
love as the touchstoneof political decision-making"
(Jackson 1991,
443). The otherpremiseis that the reasonsRawlsoffersin supportof
- that justice as fairness providesa fair basis
politicalarrangements
for socialcooperation,that it is foundedon ideas drawnfromthe public culture, and the like- cannot be acceptedout of Christianlove.
The first premise, at least so baldly stated, is likely to encounter
strongresistancefromnaturallaw theorists;I will not, however,pursue this matter here. In what follows,I want to concentrateon the
secondof these premises.
This secondclaimis a very strongone and initiallyseems opento an
obviouscounterexample.Is it not at least logicallypossiblethat someone mightacceptthe propositionson whichRawls'sview rests because
Godtells her to do so? If the personin questionacceptsdivine commands out of Christianlove (see Mouw1990, 18-20, 35-42), then it
seems that it is out of Christianlove that she acceptsthe claimsabout
freedomand equalitythat Rawls offersfor his view.
Considera differentand morepedestrianargument. Rawlsmay offer only pragmaticargumentsin favorof his conceptionofjustice or in
favor of conditionsdefiningthe originalposition. Surely it does not
followthat these are the onlyreasonsthere are or that someonecould
not adoptjustice as fairness for differentreasons than Rawls offers.
IndeedRawls himself says that in an overlappingconsensusparticipants acceptjustice as fairness"fromwithin [their]ownpointof view"
(Rawls 1985, 247; cf. 1993, 147);participantsin such a consensus,he
says, can see that "thepoliticalconceptionis derivedfrom[their]comprehensivedoctrine"(Rawls 1987, 19).
Rawls'sfirst writings on an overlappingconsensuswere not especially forthcomingabout how this might happen. His most recent
workon the subject,while greatlyexpandingearlierdiscussionsabout
how an overlappingconsensusmightdevelop,consciouslyleaves aside
the questionof how principledallegianceto a liberalconceptionmight
evolvefromwithin a religiouspointof view (Rawls1993, 169). Rawls
has, however,consistentlyillustratedthe developmentof an overlapping consensuson justice as fairness with a brief discussionof how
Protestantsand Catholicsreachedan overlappingconsensuson the
principleof toleration(Rawls 1993, 148). This suggests that, just as
Catholicsregard the principleof tolerationas a principleto be acceptedon theologicalgrounds,so they wouldcometo regardRawls's

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10

Journal of Religious Ethics

two principles as principles to be accepted on theological grounds.


This could come about if, for example, an authoritative ecclesiastical
or episcopal document presented Rawls's difference principle as the
conclusion of a theological argument, much as the Vatican Declaration
on Religious Liberty did with the principle of toleration. What is true
of Catholics is presumably true, in Rawls's view, of Protestants as
well. Protestants, too, could come to regard principles of justice as
principles they hold for theological reasons, just as some Protestants
accept the principle of toleration on theological grounds. Since the
theological reasons that move Protestants would differ somewhat from
those that move Catholics, Protestant and Catholic views would overlap without being congruent. As Rawls says, "[s]ince different premises may lead to the same conclusions, we simply suppose that the
essential elements of the political conception, its principles, standards, and ideals, are theorems, as it were, at which the comprehensive doctrines in the consensus intersect or converge"(Rawls 1987, 9).
In spite of Rawls's admission of this possibility, many have read him
as claiming that participants in an overlapping consensus would accept justice as fairness only on pragmatic grounds. The prevalence of
this interpretation is due in no small measure to Richard Rorty, who
claims this explicitly (Rorty 1988, 264). I believe Rorty's reading of
Rawls mistaken; I believe it can be shown so by pursuing Rawls's comparison between consensus on his principles and consensus on the
principle of toleration (see Weithman n.d.). For present purposes,
however, what is important is the way in which Jackson would respond to the arguments suggested in these last paragraphs.
2.3 The justificatory priority of the right
Jackson's response, I believe, would be that the possibilities raised
are inconsistent with some of Rawls's central views. If someone did
accept the basic intuitive ideas on the basis of a divine command, did
regard the principles of justice as based on theological truths, or did
accept and act on them for any other reason associated with Christian
love, her reasons for accepting them would derive their force from her
conception of the good. Claims about the right would then be derived
from and accepted on the basis of claims about the good. This, Jackson would conclude, is contrary to Rawls's claim that his is a theory of
justice in which the right is prior to the good. As Jackson summarizes
the objection, if acceptance of and conformity with Rawls's conception
of justice "must itself be motivated by ... comprehensive moral commitments, then talk of 'priority'is misplaced" (Jackson 1991, 440).

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The Privatizationof Religion

11

The congruenceof the right and the goodin the psychologyof members of the well-orderedsocietyis the subjectof part 3 of A Theoryof
Justice. It is there that we mightfirst expectJackson'sconcernsto be
addressed.However,Rawlsintroducedthe idea of an overlappingconsensus long after the completionof the book;its third part, therefore,
does not take up the questionof how someonemight participatein
such a consensusfromwithin her own theologicalviews. The case on
whichJacksonfocusesis thus one that Rawlsdid not examinesystematicallyin A Theoryof Justice, as Rawlshimselffreely admits (Rawls
1985, 251 n. 33).6
It might well be that philosophicalreflectionon such cases would
revealno epistemicor motivationalpriorityof the right to the good;it
may be, that is, that Jacksonis right to objectthat in such cases the
agent acceptsthe truth of and acts uponclaimsaboutthe right on the
basis of claims about the good. IndeedI am preparedto concedeas
much for the sake of argument. It does not followfromthis concession, however,that the priorityRawlsasserts of the right to the good
has been completelycompromisedor that, to amendJackson'sphraseology slightly, "all talk of 'priority'is misplaced."The priorityof the
right may, after all, be other than motivationalor epistemic.
To see this, note first a point that my restatementof Jackson'sobjection presupposes:even if a claim aboutan agent'sduties or obligations under principlesof justice is derived from claims about the
agent'sgood,it doesnot followthat the claimaboutduties and responsibilitiesis a claimaboutthe good. It remainsa claimaboutthe right
because what determineswhether a claim is about the right or the
goodis the claim'spropositionalcontentand not the reasonsfor which
the claimis acteduponor accepted.Thereforethe case Jacksonposes
is neitherone in whichthe distinctionbetweenthe right and the good
is obliteratednor one in whichclaimsaboutjustice are or are seen as
claims aboutthe good. The personin Jackson'scase endorsesclaims
aboutthe right as well as claimsaboutthe good. It is possiblefor her
to accordthe formersome priorityover the latter.
If claims aboutthe goodenjoymotivationaland epistemicpriority,
what other sort of prioritymight be accordedclaims aboutthe right?
It could still be arguedthat the right must be priorin the political
argumentthat citizensofferone anotherand that the governmentoffers to citizens. That is, it couldbe arguedthat any appealto theories
of or claimsaboutthe goodin politicalargumentmust be governedby
6 In the introductionto Political Liberalism (1993), Rawls discusses the gestation of
the idea of an overlappingconsensus, indicating that his own increasing dissatisfaction
with part 3 of A Theoryof Justice was responsible for the idea's conception.

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Journal of ReligiousEthics

certainconstraints. Thoseconstraintsmust themselves,Rawlsmight


say, be specifiedby justice as fairness;they are thereforeconstraints
groundedin the right rather than the good. For example,claims to
certainprimarygoodsin the well-orderedsocietymust be claimsthat
are just by the criteriajustice as fairnessspecifies. Anyoneasserting
such a claim must be preparedto justify it as such. The demandsof
justice as specifiedby justice as fairness thus constrainthe claims
that can be advancedin the well-orderedsociety and provide the
terms in which such claims are to be justified. Even if someoneis
ultimately motivatedto respect those constraintsby considerations
drawn from her theologicalviews, there is at least one important
sense in which she will accordthe right priority.
This emphasison what we mightcall thejustificatorypriorityof the
right to the good comportswell with Rawls'srecent claims that he is
providinga conceptionof justice intendedonly for politicalpurposes.
He couldplausiblyclaim that as the whole conceptionis for political
purposes,so, too,is the priorityof the right. If askedforwhat political
purposesthis priorityis asserted,he couldrespondthat it is asserted
for purposesof constrainingpublicjustificationin matters of justice.
ThereforeRawls does privatizereligionin a coupleof ways. He excludes religiousreasonsfromthe justificationof fundamentalprinciples of justice, and he constrainsthe use of religious argumentin
publicjustification. It does not followfromthis, as Jacksonseems to
assert, that Rawls falls into inconsistency.
This response to Jackson'sobjectionmight seem to play into the
hands of othercritics,forRawlsis sometimesaccusedof imposingconstraints on politicalargumentthat are too strict for Christiansto accept. Even if Rawls is not inconsistent, it might well be that
Christiansshould reject as too constrainingthe claims about public
justificationand politicalargumentthat Rawlsdefends. Let us thereforeturn to the secondof the three criticismsthat I mentionedat the
outset.
3. Religious Arguments in Political Discourse
In Rawls'srecentessays, he has introducedthe notionof "freepublic
reason,"which he identifiesexclusivelywith "thesharedmethodsof,
and the publicknowledgeavailableto, commonsense, and the procedures and conclusionsof science when these are not controversial"
(Rawls 1987, 8). His discussionof this notion has sometimesbeen
taken to imply that all politicaldebatemust be conductedwithin the
limits set by commonsense and uncontestedscience and scientific
methods(Hampton1989, 798). It is thereforesaid that Rawls allows

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The Privatization of Religion

13

religious arguments no place in the public debate even of matters


much less fundamental than the choice of principles to govern society's basic structure. Thus David Hollenbach, for example, concludes
a brief discussion of Rawls on free public reason by saying that "in the
actual practice of public life, comprehensive religious, philosophical
and moral conceptions of the good are privatized" (Hollenbach 1991,
94).
For the moment I will defer the question of whether this interpretation of Rawls is correct. I want first to consider whether, even if it is,
there are arguments to sustain the claim that privatizing religion in
this way is theologically objectionable.
3.1 Public reason and religious liberty
Hollenbach argues that this privatized conception of religion is at
odds with the conception of religious freedom Roman Catholicism has
endorsed since Vatican II. He writes:
If assent to such a privatized understanding of the full human good is a
preconditionfor participation in Rawls's overlapping consensus, it is clear
that contemporaryCatholicism (and many other religious communities as
well) cannot sign on. As Vatican IFs Declaration on Religious Freedom
put the matter: "It comes within the meaning of religious freedom that
religious bodies should not be prohibited from freely undertaking to show
the special value of their doctrine in what concerns the organization of
society and the inspiration of the whole of human activity" [Hollenbach
1991, 94-95].

To assess this argument that Rawls's discussion of public reason is


contrary to the post-conciliar view of religious liberty, it is necessary
to determine whether the passage from the Declaration has the implications that Hollenbach takes it to have.
First, the quoted passage refers to what "religious bodies" may do
and is therefore limited in its implications. It can show only that what
is objectionable about Rawls's conception of free public reason is its
consequence for the activities of such bodies, including churches, bishops' conferences, and the like. Even if Rawls's view of public reason
severely restricted the political arguments in which individuals could
engage, the quoted passage would provide no grounds for the claim
that this unduly limits their religious freedom.7 Many who criticize
7 John Langan explicitly objectsto Rawls's treatment of the liberty of "religiousbodies." He writes: "Rawlstreats religion as a private and personal phenomenon. He regards religious liberty as a very important value that is intimately related to personal
integrity. But it is indicative of the privatization of religion in Rawls that, while he

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Journal of ReligiousEthics

liberalismfor privatizingreligionobjectto the stricturesit imposeson


individualpoliticalconduct;clearlymoreargumentis requiredto sustain their objectionthan the passage quotedwill support.
A secondand moreseriousobjectionis that this use of the Declaration to objectto Rawls'sview turns on an ambiguityin the word"prohibited"and its cognates. To see this, note first that the prohibitions
being discussedin the Declarationare legal or civil prohibitionswhich
carrycoercivesanctions,as the contextof the passage makes clear.8
The Declarationasserts that the right to religious liberty includes
freedomfromprohibitionsof this sort. This assertion,however,does
not supportthe claimthat Rawls'sview of publicreasonis contraryto
the religiousfreedomthe documentdiscusses. It doesnot supportthis
claim because Rawls does not defend legal or civil prohibitionson
either associationsor individualswho adducereligiousconsiderations
in political argument. The prohibitionsRawls has in mind are not
legal or civil, but moral.
In this Rawlsjoins a numberof liberalswho have, in recentyears,
discussedwhat normsought to guide politicalargumentin a liberal
democracy.Of these, RobertAudi's discussionis the most explicit.
Audibeginswith the claimthat his readershave a moralobligationto
promoteand sustain the institutionsof liberaldemocracy(Audi1989,
262). He then argues that in virtue of this obligation,they and the
religious bodies to which they belong are boundby further requirements to refrainfrombringingtheir religiousviews into politicalargument. Audi says clearlythat his normsexpressprima facie moral
obligations(Audi 1989, 262), and he just as clearlydenies that those
obligationsshouldbe writteninto law (Audi 1989, 275).
I do not want to considerhere whetherRawlswouldagreewith the
requirementsAudi imposes (but see Rawls 1993, 214 n. 3, 247ff.). I
do, however,believe that he would acceptAudi'smethodof deriving
such requirementsfromthe requirementto supportthe basic institutions of a just liberaldemocracy,understoodas includingthe duty to
defends the religious liberty of the individual, he has nothing to say about the liberty of
religious societies or institutions"(Langan 1977, 352). Langan does not cite the Vatican
document, but perhaps he has it in mind.
8 The brief section of the documentfrom which the passage is taken begins with the
claim that "the freedom or immunity from coercion in religious matters which is the
right of individuals must also be accordedto men when they act in community"(Flannery 1980, 802, emphasis added). Two paragraphs before the quoted one, the Declaration says, "religious communities also have right not to be hindered by legislation or
administrative action on the part of civil authority" (Flannery 1980, 802, emphasis
added).

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maintain public civility.9 If this conjectureis correct,then arguing


against Rawls's claims about public reason requires either arguing
that there is no obligationto promotethe institutionsof liberaldemocracy or arguingthat that obligationdoes not imply the moral strictures on political argumentthat Rawls defends. Pointing out that
religious freedomincludes the right of religiousbodies to be free of
legal prohibitionson religiouspoliticalargumentis beside the point.
3.2 Murray,pluralism,and thepolitical consensus
A remarkmadeby John CourtneyMurraysuggeststhat he thought
the Declarationon ReligiousLibertycontainedor was supportedby a
view of religious freedomthat is antitheticalto the privatizationof
whichRawlsstands accused. In a note on the passagefromthe Declaration that Hollenbachquotes, Murraywrote, "[ijmplicitlyrejected
here is the outmodednotionthat 'religionis a purelyprivateaffair'or
that 'the Churchbelongsin the sacristy.' Religionis relevant to the
life and actionof the society. Thereforereligiousfreedomincludesthe
right to point out this socialrelevanceof religiousbelief (Abbottand
Gallagher1966, 683).
This remarkis, however,quite difficultto interpret.Murrayseems
to be denyingthe legitimacyof moralprohibitionson religiousarguments in politicaldiscourse. How can such a denial be "implicit"in
the Declaration'sclaimaboutlegal sanctions?PerhapsMurraywould
have acceptedthe followingargument:
1. Individualshave a moralright to practicetheir religion.
2. Practicingone'sreligionincludespointingout the socialrelevance
of religiousbelief.
3. Therefore,individualshave a moralright to point out the social
relevanceof religiousbelief.
4. If someonehas a moralrightto do something,then she violatesno
moralobligationby doingit.
5. Thereforeindividualsviolate no moralobligationby pointingout
the social relevanceof religiousbelief.
Murraymay well have thought that (3), together with a premise
aboutpoliticalrightsof the organizationsto whichindividualsbelong,
entailed the passage of the Declarationon which he remarked. If
Murraytook (3) to be equivalentto the claim that religionis not a
purelyprivateaffair,then perhapshe thoughtthat the passage from
the Declarationhad that claimimplicitin it in the followingsense:the
9 I am grateful to Rawls for helpful conversation about the importance of this duty.

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Journal of ReligiousEthics

claimthat religionis not a purelyprivateaffairis amongthe premises


fromwhich the passage in the Declarationcan be inferred.
Moreimportantfor our purposes,the conclusionof this argument
denies what Rawlsis sometimesaccusedof asserting. If liberalismis
committedto institutionswhichprotectthe right assertedin the first
premise and if the argumentis sound,then an obligationto sustain
the institutions of liberal democracydoes not imply the strictureson
publicreasonthat Rawlsis accusedof defending.
The argument is not, however, obviously sound, for the second
premiseis not obviouslytrue. It is not obviousthat pointingout the
social relevanceof religiousbelief is part of the exerciseof one'sreligion rather than somethingone may be motivatedto do becauseone
has certain religiousbeliefs which seem to have social implications.
Indeed the argumentseems not to be sound at all for the inference
from(1) and (2) to (3) is problematic.Surelythere are some elements
of religiouspracticein which peopledo not have a moralright to engage. It may be that practiceof some religionrequireshuman sacrifice, but surely it does not follow that anyone has a moral right to
engagein it. Someelementsof religiouspracticedo not fall withinthe
scope or protectionof a moralright becausethey conflictwith other
moralobligations.At least some liberalswouldarguethat the moral
obligationsimposedby the requirementto supportjust liberalinstitutions conflictwith the interest individualshave in pointingout the
social relevanceof their religiousbeliefs, even if this is part of their
religiouspractice. They wouldfurtherargue that the conflictis best
settled by imposingmoralprohibitionson the use of religiousconsiderationsin politicalargument.
To counterthis argument,either some theoryof liberal democracy
must be providedaccordingto which no conflictarises or some solution must be defendedwhichbalancesthe conflictingclaimsand interests differently. The solution which Murray's remark suggests
balances the claims by giving free exercise, as Murrayconceivesit,
overridingweight.10Withoutsome supportingargument,however,it
is hard to see why this solutionshouldbe accepted.
Otherof Murray'swritingssuggestan alternativeview:that imposing loosermoralrestrictionson publicargumentwouldbe compatible
with the requirementsof publiccivility. Centralto Murray'sview as
expressedin WeHold TheseTruthsis the moralideal of what Murray
calls "thereasonableman"(Murray1960, 297). The ability and willingness to engage in civil argumentare essential to the ideal of rea10Audi's solution seems to me to err in the other direction;see Weithman 1991, 6465.

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The Privatizationof Religion

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sonablenessas Murrayconceivesit (e.g., Murray1960, 14, 297). Civil


argumentation,in Murray'sview, draws its premises from what he
called"thepublicconsensus"(Murray1960,80-81), and it is clearthat
Murray thought the consensus included at least some theological
claims (Murray1960, 328). It is thereforeclear that Murraythought
that reasonablecitizens couldcomplywith the duty of civility while
adducingat least some religiousclaims in their politicalargument.
This is not the place to do a full comparisonof Murrayand Rawls.
Such a comparisonwouldbe interestingand important,not least because there is so much superficialagreementbetween them. Both
think that publicargumentmust begin froma moralconsensus,both
are impressedby what Rawlshas called "thefact of pluralism,"both
attachgreatimportanceto the ideal of reasonablenessand to the associated duty of civility,and both wouldagree that civility requiresaddressing others as equals on the basis of "commonhuman reason"
(Rawls 1993, 137). Yet Rawls and Murraydiffer significantlyabout
the meaning of "reasonableness,"
about the properattitude toward
pluralism,11and aboutthe contentof the consensusfromwhichpolitical discussionbegins.
Theremay well be circumstancesin whichreligiousargumentation
is compatiblewith the demandsof civility. Giventhe pluralismof contemporarydemocracies,however,there are many circumstancesin
which it is not- including,I believe, circumstancesin which Murray
thought religious political argumentpermissible. I thereforethink
that Murray'sargumentsfor the compatibilityof civilityand loose restrictionson such argumentare unsound. WhetherRawls'sown arguments are any better dependsupon the contentof the restrictionshe
wouldactuallydefend. It is to that I now turn.
3.3 Constrainedbut notprohibited
In the last section,I grantedfor the sake of argumentthat Rawls's
discussionof publicreasondoes imposemoralprohibitionson any use
of religiouspoliticalargument. I now want to contestthat interpretation and arguethat Rawlswouldallowreligiongreaterscopein political discoursethan is oftenthought. The workRawlspublishedbefore
1993containslittle sustainedtreatmentof the notionof publicreason.
I believe,however,that the reasonsRawlsgives in his earlierworkfor
introducingthe notionsupportmy reading.
11Murray says that pluralism is "lamentable"(1960, 74). Rawls, by contrast, describes it as "the characteristic work of practical reason over time under enduring free
institutions" (1993, 135).

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Journal of ReligiousEthics

Rawlsintroducedfree publicreasonin "Ideaof an OverlappingConsensus"as a companionidea to the notion that gives that paper its
title. Recallthat an overlappingconsensusobtainscompletelywhen a
societyis well orderedby justice as fairness. This occurswhen everyone acceptsand knows that everyoneelse acceptsthat conceptionof
justice and when eachhas reconciledthat conceptionwith her comprehensive moraland religiousviews.
In a societyin whichall convergeon a conceptionofjustice, a pair of
questionsnaturallyarise. The first is the questionof what standards
should be employedto determinewhetherthe institutions constituting the basic structureconsistentlyoperate in conformitywith the
principlesof justice on which all are agreed. The second is that of
what sorts of argumentsmay be used and what evidenceappealedto
by, for example,a supremecourt,to convincecitizensthat justice is in
fact being done in particularcases. As Rawls says:
[C]onnected with a political conception of justice is an essential companion conception of free public reason. This conceptioninvolves various elements. A crucial one is this: just as a political conception of justice needs
certain principles of justice for the basic structure to specify its content, it
also needs certain guidelines of inquiry and publicly recognized rules of
assessing evidence to govern its application. Otherwise, there is no
agreed way for determining whether those principles are satisfied, and for
settling what they require of particular institutions, or in particular situations. Agreement on a conception of justice is worthless- not an effective agreement at all- without agreement on these further matters
[Rawls 1987, 8].

Citizens'need for assurancethat justice is being done arises from


the great importancecitizens attach to satisfactionof and respectfor
their fundamentalinterests.12 The assurance that justice is being
done is, in Rawls'sview, a necessaryconditionfor citizens'knowing
that these fundamentalinterests are being respected. Satisfyingthis
conditionrequiresthat humanreasonplay the specialrole of providing the requisiteassurance. This role is a public role becausethe arguments providing this assurance are the publicly announced
justificationof the acts and operationsof publicinstitutions- hence
the name "publicreason."
12 In Rawls's theory, those interests are specified by the political conception of justice itself. These fundamental interests are, of course, interests in the primary goods
and in the development and exercise of the moral powers (Rawls 1980, 525; 1993, 4788).

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The argumentsof publicreasonare addressedto everylast citizen,


for argumentsmust be availableto everycitizenwho wants to assure
herselfthat justice is being done(Rawls1980, 553). The pluralismof
the moderndemocraciesfor which Rawls writes implies that reason
must be governedby certainrestrictionsif it is to providearguments
accessibleto all. Morespecifically,if reasonis to play this publicrole
adequately,it must be restrictedin the inferencesit acceptsand the
premises to which it appeals. It is because of the extremityof this
pluralismthat these restrictionsare so demanding;publicreason,as
we saw, is confinedto "thesharedmethodsof, and the publicknowledge availableto, commonsense, and the proceduresand conclusions
of sciencewhen these are not controversial"
(Rawls 1987, 8).
Whois boundby these restrictions?Who exercisespublicreason?
Since the notionof publicreasonis introducedto explainhow citizens
in a well-orderedsociety can be assured and can assure themselves
that justice is being done and their fundamentalinterests are being
respected,we wouldexpectRawlsto say that stricturesof publicreason most need to be observedwhere the need to performthe public
functionof providingthis assuranceis greatest. In other arguments,
where there is less, little, or no threat to citizens'fundamentalinterests, the moralrequirementto adhereto the canonsof publicreasoning will be correspondinglyweaker. To answer the question of who
exercisespublicreason,it is thereforenecessaryto determinewhose
political arguments and pronouncementscreate the need for such
assurance.
Whenis the needforsuch assurancegreatest? Certainlythe need is
very greatindeedwhenthe U.S. SupremeCourtis pronouncingon the
scopeof the basic liberties;in such cases citizens'fundamentalinterests are clearlyat stake. If, for example,the U.S. SupremeCourtregularly appealedto theologicalpremises in its opinions,non-theists
could not be sure that the Courtwas respectingtheir fundamental
interests. Indeedthey might well suspect that justice was not being
done and that religiously-basedclaims on socialinstitutionswere being illegitimatelyhonored. Since the assurancethat justice is being
done is necessary,in Rawls'sview, so, too, are the moralrestrictions
on publicreasonprohibitingappealto theologicalclaimsin, for example, SupremeCourtdecisions.
The need is, likewise,very great indeedwhen electedofficials,particularly those who hold offices of great power and responsibility,
speakon such mattersin their officialcapacities. Here,however,matters are morecomplicated(see Rawls'sdiscussionof Lincolnat 1993,
254).

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Journal of ReligiousEthics

Publicreason,we might say, is thereforeprimarilythe reasonexercised by the courtsand by electedofficialsin their officialcapacities.
This conclusioncan be extrapolatedfromRawls'searliertreatmentof
public reason. It is explicit in his most recent work on the subject
(Rawls 1993, 215-16).
Whatof privateindividuals?Arethey everobligatedto abideby the
restrictionsof publicreason? Obviously,few citizensin a representative democracyoccupyelectiveofficeor positionsin the judiciary. Few
citizens, therefore,occupypositionswith which,it seems, publicreason is associated. It might be maintained,however,that all citizens
whether they hold public office or not, are obligatedto observethe
restrictionsof public reason when they offer political argument. It
might be maintained,that is, that all citizens are obligatedto offer
politicalargumentas if they held publicofficein a liberaldemocracy.
ImmanuelKant'swritings are very suggestive in this connection.
The third formulationof the categoricalimperativeenjoinsall to reason as if they werelegislatorsfora liberalsociety,whichKantcalleda
"realmof ends." Kant famouslythought acting from the categorical
imperativenecessaryfor the realizationof autonomy.Kant, it might
be concluded,may thereforehave thoughtthat all citizenscan realize
autonomyonly by restrictingtheir politicalargumentsto such arguments as a publicofficialin a liberal societycouldlegitimatelyoffer.
Elsewhere, when writing explicitly about public reason, Kant said
that its employmentis necessaryfor "italonecan bringaboutenlightenment amongmen"(Kant[1784] 1970, 55). It might be arguedthat
Rawls, good Kantian that he is, follows Kant's very suggestive remarks. Rawls, it might be argued, thinks that all citizens should
adopt the legislative standpointof the third formulationwhenever
they offerpoliticalargumentbecauseonlythus can they realizeautonomy and foster enlightenment.
Suggestive remarks do not, of course, an argument make. The
Kantianargumentthis line of reasoningattributesto Rawlswouldbe
extremelydifficultto articulateprecisely. For presentpurposeswhat
is importantis that Rawls does not connectthe restrictionsof public
reason with the spreadof enlightenmentor with the autonomythat
Kantthoughtindividualsrealizewhen actingfromthe categoricalimperative. Rather, Rawls argues that restrictionson public reason
must be observedso that all can see that justiceis beingdoneand that
their fundamentalinterests are being respected. The availabilityof
such assurance to each and every citizen promotescivility, mutual
trust, and mutualrespect. It is the obligationto promotethese values,
rather than to foster autonomyand enlightenment,that generates
what obligationsthere are to observethe restrictionsof publicreason.

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Observingthe restrictionsof publicreason serves to assure other


citizens that individualsand associationsdo not intend to seize political advantageand compromisethe fundamentalinterests of others.
It promotescivility and mutual trust and thereforehas much in its
favor. It is not easy to specifywhen the employmentof publicreason
is required,however,becausea largenumberof factorscomeinto play.
Amongthese are what individualsor religiousbodiesare speaking,to
whom,and on what issue. Whenthe threat to the fundamentalinterests of othercitizensis small,becauseof the issue at stake or because
the speakeris not in a positionto threatenthose interests, religious
considerationswouldno doubtbe permitteda place. Appealto them
wouldnot be morallyprohibitedas inconsistentwith the civility and
mutual trust of a just liberaldemocracy.
Rawls's recently publishedessay on public reason confirmsthis.
Therehe says that the requirementto abideby the stricturesof public
reason applies in the first instance to argumentaboutwhat he calls
"constitutionalessentials." There he also discusses the possibility
that religiousargumentationmight be employedto strengthensocial
commitmentto a liberal conceptionof justice (Rawls 1993, 227-30,
247-54).
David Hollenbachhas written that "Rawlsstates that appeals to
comprehensivedoctrinesof the good must be avoidedboth in arguments aboutthe basic structureof societyand also in the formulation
of morespecificsocialpolicies"(Hollenbach1991,94 n. 27). So general
a claim about politicalargumentdoes not take accountof the many
distinctionson which Rawls'selaborationof public reason would no
doubtrely. A full Rawlsiantheoryof publicreasonthat elaboratedits
strictures and laid down moral requirementsfor their observance
would be enormouslycomplicated.It would requiresensitivity to a
large numberof importantdistinctions,drawnwith an eye towardthe
reasonsthe notionof publicreasonwas first introduced.
The criticismthat Rawlsprivatizesreligionby prohibitingreligious
appealsin politicaldiscussionmust thereforebe qualified. Religious
reasoncannotplay the roleof publicreason,Rawlsargues,and a body
of religious social thought cannot serve as a public intellectual resourcein that capacity. Religionis not, however,completelyprohibited from public or political discussion. It is not therefore to be
completelyprivatized,in Rawls'sview. Religioncan serve as an intellectualresourcein politicalargument,but its use is constrained.This
constraintof the public use of the good of religion, rather than its
eliminationor moralprohibition,is just what we shouldexpectfroma
Kantian view like that of Rawls in which the claims of the right

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Journal of ReligiousEthics

subordinatebut do not silence the claims of the good (see Davidson


1985, 51-59).
The question of what politicalargumentwould be like in Rawls's
well-orderedsociety is a matter on which Rorty'sinterpretationof
Rawls has been influential and, I believe, highly misleading. Rorty
seems to think that publicreasonwill be all or virtuallyall the reason
there is. This is not becausehe thinks everyonewill observesome set
of moral prohibitionson reasoningof other sorts. It is because he
thinks the desire to appealto religiousargumentin politicalmatters
will "graduallycease to be felt"(Rorty1988, 264). A liberal society
would,he says be one that "encourages'the end of ideology'";citizens
of the well-orderedsocietywill inhabitwhat he calls a "disenchanted
world"(Rorty1988, 264).
Note two points aboutRorty'sargument. First, it is premisedon a
claim aboutthe impactof liberalpoliticalcultureon the religiousbeliefs and attitudesof those whoinhabitit; its crucialpremiseis a sociologicalpredictionand not a philosophicalthesis. Second,this is not a
sociologicalpredictionto which Rawls has committedhimself. We
thereforecannot rely on Rorty'sargumentto supportthe claim that
Rawlsimposesmoralprohibitionson the use of all religiousclaimsin
politicalargument.
3.4 Balancingconflictingclaims
Are the constraints on religious political argument that Rawls
wouldimposeobjectionable?Oneobjectionmightbe that there can be
no moralconstraintson the use of religiousargumentbecauseemployment of religiousargumentis part of the practiceof one'sreligionand
there are no moral restrictionson the practiceof religion. This is a
strongerversion of an objectionconsideredat the end of section 3.2.
Accordingto that objectiona prohibitionon all religiouspoliticalargument is contraryto religiousliberty.
This objectionis beset by one problemthat plaguedthe weakerversion of it discussedearlier:there obviouslyare moralrestrictionson
the practiceof religion. Someof those restrictions,like the restriction
of human sacrifice,are requiredby the just claims of others. Rawls
would argue that the restrictionson religiousargumentthat he imposes are groundedin the need for civility,mutualtrust, and security;
these claims, in turn, are ultimately groundedon the conceptionof
justice Rawlsprovides.Thereforethe moralrestrictionson argument
that Rawls defends,like the restrictionson human sacrifice,express
requirementsof justice.

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The burdenof proofis on the objectorto argue either that the need
for trust, civility, and securitydoes not conflictwith religiousliberty
properlyconceivedor that the properbalanceof these claimsdemands
looserconstraintson argumentthan Rawlswouldendorse. The objector might maintain,for example,that Rawlshas balancedcompeting
claimsimproperlybecausehe misconceivesthe fundamentalinterests
of citizens. She might also maintainthat he balancesthem improperly becausehe attachestoo high a value to everyone'sbeing assured
that her fundamentalinterests are respectedand not enoughto the
interest citizenshave in the practiceof their religion. The cost of this
equal respectfor all citizens, she might maintain,is simplytoo high;
the religiouspersoncannotbe expectedto pay it.
These claims, of course,cut to the heart of Rawls'sliberal democratic theory. The burdenof anyone who urges them is to support
them with a theoryof liberal democracythat differsfromthe one he
provides.No one urgingthis objection,however,has providedsuch an
alternativetheory.
Moreover,such a theorywouldhave seriousdrawbacks,even froma
religiouspointof view. Theories,like that of Rawls,that privilegethe
securityof everyone'sfundamentalinterestsare theorieswhichdepict
a social world with certain desirablecharacteristics.In particular,
they depicta socialworldin whicheveryonecan readilyassureherself
that religiously-foundedclaims on public institutions are advanced
and honoredonly when they are just claims which those institutions
can honor legitimately. Indeed, it is the ready availabilityof such
knowledgethat providesthe basis for the mutual respect and trust
that wouldobtainamongcitizens. Theobjectionpresupposesan undevelopedtheorywhich supposesthat religiouspeoplemay legitimately
assert claims on social institutionswhich some others cannot recognize as just claims. Honoringthese claims will thereforeseem, at
least to some,to be illegitimateexercisesof publicpower. This perception couldwell elicit a mistrustof those who advancesuch claims,and
it risks arousing enmity against the religion that motivates those
claimsin the first place. It is at least questionablewhetherthe cause
of religionis better servedby arousingsuch mistrust and animosity
than it wouldbe by restraintin the name of mutual respect.
4. Religious Goods and Public Goods
Is it possible,though,that by imposingmoral restrictionson religious politicalargument,Rawls deprivesliberaldemocraciesof arguments that wouldotherwisecontributeto their vitality,their cohesion,
or their justice? This brings me to the third of the three objections

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Journal of ReligiousEthics

that I want to consider,the objectionthat the privatizationof religion


is premisedon a mistakenconceptionof religionas divisive.
In a relatively early assessment of Rawls's work, John Langan
writes that Rawls,"[l]ikemost theoristsof the social contract,is concerned about the divisive effects of religious belief (Langan 1977,
351). Langanthen remarks,"it is importantto see that Christianity
and other religionsofferan interpretationof the commonexperience
of humanpersons;in this sense, at least, the gospelcan have a secular
meaningand can be relevantto our conceptionsofjustice and society"
(Langan1977, 352). Langandoes not spell out in what he thinks this
relevanceconsists. His remarksuggests, however,that, in his view,
the gospelnarrative- the values it articulates,the parables,the sym- can appealeven to
bols, the story of death, rebirth,and redemption
the non-theistand the non-Christian.
Langanis makingat least one of two possibleclaims. One is that
the use of religiouslanguage,imagery,and reasoningin politicalargument is not divisive. The secondand strongerclaimis that such language, imagery, and reasoningcontributeuseful politicalideas and
help to forge social unity and politicalcoalitions. The formerclaim
couldbe used to arguethat such an introductionof religioninto political argumentis morallypermissible.The secondcouldbe used to argue, not only that religion'sintroductionis morallypermissible,but
also that it is morallyand politicallygood.13I do not want to examine
the argumentsfor these claimsin great detail. I do, however,want to
look somewhatmorecloselyat fourdifferentways of construingwhat
is meant or entailedby the claim that religiouspoliticalargumentis
not necessarilydivisive.
It might mean simplythat (1) appeal to religiousconsiderationsto
advocateor legitimatepublicpolicy neednot necessarilyoccasioncivil
strife. This is a claim that Rawls would surely grant, at least if the
societyin questionis a twentieth-centuryNorthAtlanticdemocracy.14
This concession,however, has no bearing on the argument about
Rawls'sstrictureson politicalargumentfortheirimpositionis not proposedas a way to avoidcivil strife. If the claimthat religionneed not
be politicallydivisiveis to countagainstRawls'saccountof publicreason, it must be interpretedmorestrongly.
Perhaps the claim means that (2) the use of religious argument
would not endangerthe trust, civility,respect,and securityso central
to Rawls'sargument.This interpretationof Langan'sclaimobligesus
13 David Hollenbach seems to endorse this second claim (1988, 299).
14Note that while Rawls might make this concession, not everyone would; see Audi
1989, 296, and Larmore 1990, 357.

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The Privatizationof Religion

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to returnto the question:Underwhat circumstancesis religiousargument to be used?


It may well be that the employmentof religiouslanguageand argument in SupremeCourtdecisions,for example,wouldappealto large
segmentsof the populationand may securetheir supportfor a Court
decision. The consequencesfor those who do not find such religious
considerationscompelling,however, are dire. Religious arguments
have, fromtheir point of view, functionedonly to solidifya majority
against them. Because those argumentsare, ex hypothesi,adduced
by the SupremeCourt,the minoritymay well feel that a religiousmajority has solidified against them with Court approval and
encouragement.
use of religiousargumentin SupremeCourtdeciThe contemporary
sions thus raises a specter similar to that which James Madison
soughtto exorcise.WhereMadisonwas concernedwith the possibility
of majoritytyranny, Rawls is concernedalso with the perceptionof
majoritytyranny. Thus he says: "[ajrgumentssupportingpolitical
judgmentsshould,if possible,not onlybe soundbut suchthat they can
be publiclyseen to be sound. The maximthat justice must not onlybe
done,but be seen to be done,holdsgoodnot onlyin law but also in free
publicreason"(Rawls1987,21). It is importantto rememberthat the
functionof publicreasonis not simplyto buildworkingmajoritiesbehind judicial decisionor legislative programs,but also to assure all
citizensthat exercisesof publicpowerarejust and legitimateand that
the fundamental interests of each and every citizen are being
respected. Publicreason avoids divisivenessin the sense under considerationwhen it performsthese functionsand guaranteesthat justice can "beseen to be done."
I have argued that, in Rawls's view, this requires the Supreme
Court to observe strict restraints on the reasoningit employs. His
most recent workbears out this interpretation:
The justices cannot, of course, invoke their own morality, nor the ideals
and virtues of morality generally. Those they must view as irrelevant.
Equally, they cannot invoke their or other people's religious or philosophical views. Nor can they cite political values without restriction. Rather,
they must appeal to the political values they think belong to the most
reasonable understanding of the public conception and its political values
of justice and public reason. These are values that they believe in good
faith, as the duty of civility requires, that all citizens as reasonable and
rational might reasonably be expected to endorse [Rawls 1993, 236, emphasis added].

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Journal of Religious Ethics

It may have been true in the past, even in the recent past, that religious argument could function in the role of public reason and that, for
example, the U.S. Supreme Court could appeal to religious premises
to justify its decisions. To take but one example, William O. Douglas,
in a 1952 decision that John Courtney Murray applauded, wrote that
"[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a supreme
being" (Zorach v. Clauson 72 S.Ct. 679; see Murray 1960, 151). In the
intervening forty years, pluralism has increased, as has the suspicion
of religious authority and religious argument. It seems to me very
doubtful that the Supreme Court could now rely on religious arguments to justify its verdicts without arousing suspicions that the fundamental interests of some are being sacrificed illegitimately.
Indeed members of the Court themselves have recently expressed
serious reservations about the legitimacy of decisions that are religiously grounded (for example, Blackmun in the 1986 case Bowers v.
Harwich 106 S.Ct. 2841). That even members of the Supreme Court
doubt the legitimacy of that Court'sown decisions when they are religiously based, suggests that religious argument would now be divisive
if employed in the role of public reason. Reflection on the consequences for a possible minority of non-theists lends this some confirmation. Rawls's discussion of free public reason is indeed premised,
as Langan's objection asserts, on the claim that the use of religious
argument in that role would be in some sense divisive. That premise,
however, seems to be correct given the interpretation of "divisive"now
under consideration.
Perhaps the claim that religious political discourse is not divisive
means only that (3) there are some circumstances in which religious
arguments can be employed and religious symbols invoked without endangering trust, civility, respect, and security. If this is so, then the
claim provides no grounds for objecting to Rawls. He would permit
recourse to religious political argument in such circumstances, as his
most recent work makes amply clear (Rawls 1993, 247-54).
Finally, the claim that religious argumentation is not politically divisive might mean that (4) its employment facilitates the building of
coalitions and majorities at only a very slight cost to civility, trust, and
the security of fundamental interests. The objection to Rawls's argument premised on this view is that though he is correct in believing
that religious appeals generate some social divisiveness, the costs of
such appeals are worth paying. The conclusion of this argument implies that the values which Rawls places at the heart of democracy
and justice can be compromised for the sake of other goods. That
claim, in turn, can only be defended by a great deal of argument. Mutual respect, trust, and the assurance of every last citizen that society

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The Privatizationof Religion

27

corporatelyand others singly respect her interests, are very great


politicalgoods. They are also goodswhich,in the long run, arguably
contributeto the stabilityof liberaldemocraticinstitutions. Ranking
these goodsbeneaththose availableif these are sacrificedrequiresa
theoryof politicalvalue that objectorshave not yet begunto provide.
It also requiresan argumentthat the goodsand goals of religionare
better advancedwhen adherentsof religionopenlyprofessa willingness to sacrificemutualrespectand securitythan when they do not.
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