Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Wilmot on Perry's "Under God"

A few days ago, Michael Perry linked to a recent review, by Villanova's Brett Wilmot, of Michael's latest book, "Under God? Religious Faith and Liberal Democracy." The review (and Michael's book) are worth reading. I particularly liked the opening line of Wilmot's review:

Change is afoot in the contemporary debate abou the proper role of religion in democratic politics. The ascendancy of Rawlsian liberalism may have finally passed its apex, and this has opened up the discussion considerably.


Toward the end of his (generally enthusiastic) review, Wilmot voices his disagreement with Michael's view that not every liberal democracy has to have a non-establishment-of-religion requirement. Wilmot rejects the view that "non- or disestablishment of religion is not essential to the ideal of democracy." Wilmot believes that even a mild, Church-of-England-type establishment effectively sets up a "religious test on membership in the political community", and is therefore incompatible with liberal ideals of political deliberation and community. Wilmot expresses similar concerns about (what he takes to be) Michael's belief that even "the explicit affirmation of theism on the part of our government does not represent cause for concern." Wilmot insists that "government must not express its own legitimacy or the legitimacy of its laws and policies on sectarian grounds, and this precludes . . . even fairly generic references to God and religion as a basis for such legitimacy."

Now, in Michael's response to Wilmot's review, he takes care to emphasize their common ground, and does not elaborate on his own claims about liberalism, legitimacy, theism, etc., that cause Wilmot concern. Michael does insist, though, that -- in his view -- there can be "no religious test on membership in the political community."

I wonder if Michael would mind providing, for MOJ readers and bloggers, a bit more about how it is that a liberal state may speak about its own legitimacy and fundamental norms in religious terms (something that Michael's book on Human Rights discussed in detail), and may even authorize mild "establishments" of religion, without setting up what Wilmot fears, namely, a "religious test on membership in the political community."



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