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Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part I

November 23rd, 2009 by Madeleine

In this series I set out the doctrine of religious restraint, the idea that in a pluralistic, liberal, society religious beliefs should not be utilised in the formation of public policy. I note that this doctrine entails an asymmetrical treatment of religious and secular beliefs, which appears to conflict with the central notion of liberal democracy that all people are equal and that the state should be neutral in respect to different conceptions of the good. I examine several key arguments in support of the doctrine and some defences of this asymmetry. I argue these arguments are subject to numerous difficulties and the asymmetry appears arbitrary and unjustified.

As far back as the birth of liberal democracy commentators have proposed various forms of epistemological restraint on the nature and extent of the justifications offered for coercive laws. Justification is important because central to the concept of liberal democracy is the notion that all people are free and equal. Broadly speaking, the state must accord equal protection to all who come within its territory. Public policy must allow people equal freedom to live their lives as they see fit. Every adult must have an equal voice in the governance of society through the democratic process. Charles Larmore sums this up,[1]

The familiar constitutional rights of free-expression, property, and political participation, though no doubt serving to promote the goal of democratic self-rule, also have an independent rationale. They draw upon that most fundamental of individual rights, which is the right [of every person] to equal respect.

A diversity of beliefs, views and religions flourishes as people avail themselves of these liberties and come to different understandings about life, the world they live in, the meanings and purposes thereof. The fact of this plurality invites an important corollary to the concept of liberal democracy, typically formulated as the idea that the state must remain neutral with respect to the different religions and comprehensive viewpoints present within society.

This is not to say that the state must hold that all views are equally true, just or good. Likewise, it is not a requirement that the state must adopt the incoherent stance of affirming (as a truth) that there is no such thing as truth. Nor that it should not concern itself with injustice or deleterious conduct. What is meant by this requirement is that, as a body that exists to serve the people, it is not the state’s role to rule on what is or is not the correct philosophy, worldview or religion; each person must be free to determine this. The state being neutral in this way shows equal respect for the freedom of all people.

When state neutrality is conjoined with the concepts of all people being free, equal and worthy of respect, it follows that coercive legislation needs justification. If people are worthy of respect then there exists a prima facie presumption against state coercion. A commitment to state neutrality entails that justification must be drawn from neutral grounds. I will refer to this view of liberal democracy as “the standard view.”

Common to almost all versions of the standard view is some form of restraint on religious reasons being offered as a form of justification. Richard Rorty, alluding to Jefferson’s famous reference to a wall of separation, describes this as [2]

the happy, Jeffersonian compromise that the Enlightenment reached with the religious. This compromise consists in privatizing religion — keeping it out of … “the public square,” making it seem bad taste to bring religion into discussions of public policy.

The doctrine is more than just a restraint on religious reasons; Nicholas Wolterstorff expounds further;[3]

Definitive of the position is a negation at this point: citizens (and officials) are not to base their decisions and/or debates concerning political issues on their religious convictions. When it comes to such activities, they are to allow their religious convictions to idle. They are to base their political decisions and their political debate in the public space on the principles yielded by some source independent of any and all of the religious perspectives to be found in society. … The source must be such that it is fair to insist that everybody base his or her political decisions, as well as public political debates, on the principles yielded by that source.

Paul Rishworth writes, “some have contended that the nature of religious belief is such that, while it may be integral to individual autonomy and development, it has no proper role in public policy debates and that these ought to be conducted exclusively in secular terms that are equally accessible to all.”[4]

Christopher Eberle and Terence Cuneo refer to this position as the doctrine of religious restraint (DRR) that they define canonically as[5]

The DRR: a citizen of a liberal democracy may support the implementation of a coercive law L just in case he reasonably believes himself to have a plausible secular justification for L, which he is prepared to offer in political discussion. [Emphasis original]

Eberle and Cuneo explain the implications of the DRR, “if a citizen is trying to determine whether or not she should support some coercive law, and if she believes that there is no plausible secular rationale for that law, then she may not support it.”[6]

I           The Doctrine of Religious Restraint

As Wolterstorff identifies in the quotes above, the restraint is negative; justifications for coercive laws must not be religious. The extent and nature of the independent source that acceptable justifications may be drawn from varies depending on which advocate one reads; all agree that a coercive law must be able to be justified by a plausible secular justification if it is to be neutral.

Defenders of the DRR claim that it need not be codified. It is a moral requirement upon people regardless of their role within society; some form of censure rather than legal stricture is what is suggested. Rorty reflects this when he refers to it being “bad taste” to bring religion into the public square. Stephen Carter puts it clearly;[7]

One good way to end a conversation – or start an argument – is to tell a group of well educated professionals that you hold a political position (preferably a controversial one such as being against abortion or pornography) because it is required by your understanding of God’s will. In the unlikely event that anyone hangs around to talk with you about it, chances are that you will be challenged on the ground that you are intent on imposing your religious beliefs on other people. And in contemporary political and legal culture, nothing is worse.

There is an asymmetry present in most versions of the DRR; state coercion can be justified by some secular justifications but it can never be justified by religious justifications. In reviewing a definitive defence of the DRR advanced by Robert Audi, Philip Quinn observes;[8]

These principles impose burdens on religious people that Audi nowhere suggests imposing on nonreligious people. … Audi does not propose that nonreligious people must be sufficiently motivated by adequate religious reason for their advocacy or support of restrictive laws or politicise. The lack of symmetry is striking.

Eberle and Cuneo, in their discussion of the DRR, note the same asymmetry;[9]

There is an important asymmetry between religious and secular reasons in the following respect: some secular reasons can themselves justify state coercion but no religious reason can. This asymmetry between the justificatory potential of religious and secular reasons, it is further claimed, should shape the political practice of religious believers. According to advocates of the standard view, citizens should not support coercive laws for which they believe there is no plausible secular rationale, although they may support coercive laws for which they believe there is only a secular rationale.

Not surprisingly, the DRR is controversial despite its current orthodoxy. Religious believers are required to omit beliefs they understand to be true or hold as important when they grapple with public policy. Stephen Carter captures the sentiment well when he labels this “the separation of church and self.”[10] Yet defenders of the DRR maintain that some form of religious restraint is not only in accord with the notion of liberal democracy but essential to it, as Rorty puts it, “we shall not be able to keep a democratic political community going unless the religious believers remain willing to trade privatization for a guarantee of religious liberty.”[11]

For the DRR to be as pervasively held in the literature, in society generally and within religious-freedom jurisprudence there must exist good reasons as to how the DRR does uphold the concepts of equal protection, freedom, voice and neutrality in spite of the charges critics level against it.

In my next posts in this series, Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part II, I will look at some of the arguments for the doctrine of religious restraint. These are mostly variants of appeals to respect (such as the golden rule, epistemic inaccessibility) or arguments around the dangers of religion.


[1] Charles Larmore quoted in Michael J Perry Under God? Religious Faith and Liberal Democracy (Cambridge University Press, New York, 2003) 36.
[2] Richard Rorty “Religion as a Conversation-Stopper” (1994) 3:1 Common Knowledge 1, 2.
[3] Nicholas Wolterstorff “The Role of Religion in Decision and Discussion of Political Issues” in Nicholas Wolterstorff & Robert Audi (eds) Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Political Debate (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc, Lanham Md, 1997) 67-120, 73.
[4] Paul Rishworth “Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion” in Paul Rishworth, Grant Hushcroft, Scott Optican and Richard Mahoney (eds) The New Zealand Bill of Rights (Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2003) 277-307, 279.
[5]
Christopher J. Eberle and Terence Cuneo “Religion and Political Theory” (2008) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (at 9 August 2009).
[6]
Ibid.
[7]
Stephen Carter The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialise Religious Devotion (Basic Books, New York, 1993) 23-24.
[8]
Philip Quinn “Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Political Debate” (2000) 60:2 Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 486, 487 (book review).
[9]
Eberle and Cuneo, above n 5.
[10]
Carter, above n 7, 1.
[11]
Rorty, above n 2, 3.

This series was written as a supervised research paper in pursuit of my LLB. I am very grateful to a number of people who personally encouraged me, gave feedback, recommended  resources  or were good enough to supply me with their own – particularly my supervisor, Paul Rishworth; philosophers: Glenn Peoples, Lydia McGrew, Alexander Pruss, Francis J Beckwith, Nicholas Wolterstorff and my husband, Matthew Flannagan.

RELATED POSTS:
Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part II
Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part III
Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part IV
Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part V
Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part VI

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31 responses so far ↓

  • The “asymmetry” you write of here is the quite natural asymmetry between something that’s useful and something that isn’t. For example, there is a definite “asymmetry” between how scientists regard conclusions reached using the scientific method and how they regard conclusions reached by people having a really strong opinion, because one of them is more likely to produce useful conclusions.

    In the context you’re using the term, the “asymmetry” is because a secular basis for supporting a particular law means you’ve at least had a stab at making a convincing argument for it, as opposed to simply stating “God wills it” and expecting people to take your word for it.

  • Your position is largely a caricature. Religious people do not have a monopoly on making dogmatic assertions, likewise, secular people do not have a monopoly on offering reasoned, well supported arguments.

    I address this more thoroughly in the remainder of my paper which will be posted in installments.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part I =-.

  • One of the most problematic aspects of DRR is this…

    “…citizens should not support coercive laws for which they believe there is no plausible secular rationale, although they may support coercive laws for which they believe there is only a secular rationale”

    1. What does “plausible secular rationale” actually mean in this context – and is this objective, or subjective?

    2. What objective principles govern the “secular rationale” mentioned in the last part of this statement (are there any)?

    It seems to me that DDR may suffer from enlightenment errors about truth (like empiricism) which try to create false distinctions between various truths, or which try to elevate truths about material things to a greater level of importance than truths about non-material things.

    It strikes me that the missing ingredients here are reason and justice.

    Surely the motivation behind a coercive law is in many ways irrelevant, instead what is actually important is whether the law being proposed is reasoned and just.

    For example, I might live in a culture with very little legal restraint, but one day some missionaries come to my culture and end up converting us to Christianity.

    And purely because of our new found religious beliefs, we are motivated to enact legislation making murder and theft illegal acts which are punishable by imprisonment.

    Are these laws to be judged wrong merely because we have only religious motivations for enacting them?

    Of course not.

    Why?

    Because laws preventing murder and theft, although they are coercive in nature, are reasoned and just.

    So it seems to me that in many ways it is actually quite irrelevant whether the motivation for a particular piece of coercive legislation is religious or secular, instead it is far more important to discern whether or not that legislation is reasonable and just.

    So if Christian MP John Doe proposes a law outlawing abortion, it is irrelevant whether his motivation is religious or secular, instead what matters is whether, after a weighing of the goods and evils involved, it can be shown that this legislation is just and reasonable and that it is just and reasonable in the way it is to be outworked (i.e. it doesn’t harm important goods in the process of protecting an important good).

  • Not to be a comment hog, but I’ve just noticed another problematic issue…

    “…it is not the state’s role to rule on what is or is not the correct philosophy, worldview or religion; each person must be free to determine this. The state being neutral in this way shows equal respect for the freedom of all people.”

    A couple of things strike me here…

    1. Firstly, the state can’t actually exist in a philosophical vacuum.

    There can’t be an equality of persons without there first being a philosophy of personhood which endorses such a notion.

    Even notions about the definition and boundaries of statehood require philosophical frameworks to be firstly established.

    The same goes if the state is going to refrain from declaring that it is true that there is no such thing as truth, or that all truths are equal and good – you must first have a philosophy of truth to avoid such errors.

    2. There may actually be very good grounds upon which the state would impose itself upon religious groups, and even restrict the dissemination of their religious beliefs and practices.

    For example, if a religious sect was to establish itself upon a set of beliefs which elevated the act of political assassination, or the total destruction of the state as a priority for its followers, then the state would be doing nothing unreasonable if it adopted a non-neutral stance on this particular religion, or its beliefs.

    Likewise if a religious group adopted child sacrifice as a religious practice required by their doctrines, the state would have n obligation to oppose such practices – thus ending its neutrality.

    A good example of this is the current happenings in Australia, and in other parts of the world, regarding the practices of the Scientology cult.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Congrats to Mr and Mrs Pemberton! =-.

  • Your position is largely a caricature. Religious people do not have a monopoly on making dogmatic assertions, likewise, secular people do not have a monopoly on offering reasoned, well supported arguments.

    Absolutely. But we’re not discussing individual capabilities and attitudes here, we’re discussing general principles. As a general principle, reference to the supernatural isn’t a useful basis for forming laws, as a large number of people who’ll end up subject to those laws don’t share one’s supernatural beliefs. Those people are perfectly entitled to reject out of hand arguments based on personal beliefs they don’t share, and they generally will do so. If we restrict the arguments to ones that reference the real world, there’s at least a chance of agreement on the terms of the argument.

  • […] my last post, Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part I, I set out the doctrine of religious restraint and touched on some criticisms of it. In this post, […]

  • “As a general principle, reference to the supernatural isn’t a useful basis for forming laws, as a large number of people who’ll end up subject to those laws don’t share one’s supernatural beliefs. … ”

    So if the majority became religious then it would be ok…?

    The asymmetry still stands because the same thing can be said of secular beliefs. Large number of people will still end up subject to laws based on secular ethical theories who do not share those beliefs. No secular ethical theory is widely held by the majority of people.

    “If we restrict the arguments to ones that reference the real world, there’s at least a chance of agreement on the terms of the argument.”

    This assumes that religious beliefs do not reference the “real world” but if I grant you your statement, for the sake of argument, I can still point out that there are many secular beliefs that do not reference the real world.

    The claim that murder is wrong is a religious belief of many people. The claim that one should liquidate the bourgeoisie to bring about the inevitable proletariat classless society is a secular belief. I am pretty confident that the former tracks the real world much better than the latter.

    Further, given the diversity of the different secular ideologies (many contradict each other), it is probable that most of them are false (they cannot all be true) and so most do not/can not track the real world.

    Again the asymmetry is arbitrary, the standard held against religious belief is not applied to secular ones despite both possessing the same features considered relevant.

  • Brendan, re 1 and 2, I get into that deeper in when I discuss what Audi means by these terms and also see our recent post Audi and the Infallibility of Religious Reasons

    “Surely the motivation behind a coercive law is in many ways irrelevant, instead what is actually important is whether the law being proposed is reasoned and just.”

    This is pretty much my conclusion!

    I agree with pretty much everything else you say.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part II =-.

  • […] my last posts, Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part I and Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part II, I set out the doctrine of religious restraint […]

  • So if the majority became religious then it would be ok…?

    If appeals to the supernatural are a bad basis for lawmaking, the number of people sharing a belief in the supernatural doesn’t really count.

    The asymmetry still stands because the same thing can be said of secular beliefs. Large number of people will still end up subject to laws based on secular ethical theories who do not share those beliefs.

    It’s not an issue of beliefs. Yes, secular people hold opinions based on beliefs just like religious people do. But “belief” isn’t what’s at issue here – what’s at issue is the basis on which we should enact laws or public policy. That has to be based on what you can argue for in a compelling way, not what you believe in.

    The claim that murder is wrong is a religious belief of many people. The claim that one should liquidate the bourgeoisie to bring about the inevitable proletariat classless society is a secular belief. I am pretty confident that the former tracks the real world much better than the latter.

    Further, given the diversity of the different secular ideologies (many contradict each other), it is probable that most of them are false (they cannot all be true) and so most do not/can not track the real world.

    Yes, absolutely. This is why beliefs in general, whether secular or religious, are useless to arguments about public policy. You have to argue on the basis of demonstrable facts. This applies to Bolsheviks as it does to Christians, and it is as open to a Bolshevik as it is to a Christian or Muslim to argue from facts, as opposed to “I feel really strongly about this” or “God says so right here in this book.”

    As an illustration, take this quote from your latest post:

    While it is true that most people would strongly object to having to abide by religiously-grounded policies they reject as false, it is also true that they would strongly object to having to abide by secularly-grounded policies they reject as false. Consider a Muslim woman who believes it is her religious duty to wear a burqa. The passage of a law requiring her to remove her burqa for her driver’s license photo would likely be offensive to her.

    It’s fairly straightforward to make a secular argument here: the purpose of the photo on a driver’s licence is to identify the holder, and wearing the burqa conceals the identity of the wearer and would therefore defeat the entire purpose of the process; against that, the Muslim woman doesn’t really have any argument beyond “I find it offensive” or “God’s on my side.” One of these arguments is useful – the other isn’t.
    .-= My last blog-post ..What Nick Smith really thinks of the ETS =-.

  • > It’s fairly straightforward to make a secular argument here: the purpose of the photo on a driver’s licence is to identify the holder, and wearing the burqa conceals the identity of the wearer and would therefore defeat the entire purpose of the process;

    I think that’s not a secular argument. It’s just the way we designed identity card in Western world. The Western world were founded on Christianity and burqa is pretty much a foreign concept that often misunderstood.

    The concept of burqa is so that the woman’s face isn’t looked at by another male except her husband (and children, I think, I’m no muslim). For this reason muslim’s mosque has male section and female section.

    They all have to wash their face before praying in mosque, so the women would see each other face when they wash their face in the mosque’s female area (it’s okay for female to see other female’s face).

    If we are to accommodate the burqa requirement, we have to implement policy like: Only female officer may look at a burqa women license. Only female juries may look at burqa women’s face. May be female only area in banks. And so on. And they aren’t practical, so we don’t do it … (Note that I’m not saying we should or we shouldn’t)

    (And also, many muslim women don’t wear burqa. For example in Indonesia. Millions of them don’t wear burqa in public.)

    > to argue from facts, as opposed to “I feel really strongly about this” or “God says so right here in this book.”

    “I feel really strongly” is a valid argument in many cases. For example, if we are to adhere to fact, flying is safer from plane hijacker if passengers are required to leave all their clothing and wear clothes and underwears provided by the airplane and to require them all to be strip search. And perhaps they are all induced to sleep while flying.

    And if “I feel really strongly” is valid, then so is “God says so right here in this book.”. It’s only not valid only for those who don’t believe in God in that book.

  • Psycho you write ”If appeals to the supernatural are a bad basis for lawmaking, the number of people sharing a belief in the supernatural doesn’t really count.” this is false if the reason that belief in the supernatural is a bad basis is that “a large number of people who’ll end up subject to those laws don’t share one’s supernatural beliefs.” ( the reason you cited) In a society where its not the case that a large number of people do not accept these beliefs it ceases to be a bad basis.

    It’s not an issue of beliefs. Yes, secular people hold opinions based on beliefs just like religious people do. But “belief” isn’t what’s at issue here – what’s at issue is the basis on which we should enact laws or public policy. That has to be based on what you can argue for in a compelling way, not what you believe in.

    This misses the point, laws will be argued for from premises, and premises will consist of propositions that one has to believe for the argument to be convincing.
    Madeliene’s point is that premises drawn from secular moral theories are no more controversial and widely accepted as premises drawn from religious ones. And hence its simply false to suggest that arguments from secular premises are more “compelling” than arguments from religious premises.
    The fact is any argument on a substantive controversial issue of public policy will be argued to from premises that are not accepted by all people who will be subject to the law in question.

    Yes, absolutely. This is why beliefs in general, whether secular or religious, are useless to arguments about public policy. You have to argue on the basis of demonstrable facts.

    Ok two things here, first you are using the word “belief” in a non standard way. In Philosophy to believe X is simply to think X is true. No one would base a law or policy on something that you don’t think is the case. The point is that any policy is going to be justified on the basis of someone’s beliefs. Second, you suggest that public policy should be based on demonstrable facts the problem is that one cannot get to conclusions about what society ought to do from demonstrable facts alone, to get moral conclusions demonstrable facts need to be conjoined with moral claims. So if you take this line nothing would be defensible

    It’s fairly straightforward to make a secular argument here: the purpose of the photo on a driver’s licence is to identify the holder, and wearing the burqa conceals the identity of the wearer and would therefore defeat the entire purpose of the process; against that, the Muslim woman doesn’t really have any argument beyond “I find it offensive” or “God’s on my side.” One of these arguments is useful – the other isn’t.

    I suggest that Muslim theology is not so shallow that the only reason a Islamic scholar could offer for their position is that God is on my side . But more importantly, the secular argument here is quite bad, it merely points out that the Muslims desire is contrary to the purpose of a particular practice. That actually tells us nothing about whether the practice itself is justified. Requiring people to pay their slaves defeats the purpose of having slaves which is to have cheap labour. Giving anathestic to torture victims would defeat the purpose of torturing them. It does not follow that torturing people or having slaves is justified. To have a “useful” argument here we need some reason as to why we need to have photo ID’s in the first place and why these reasons are sufficiently compelling as to demand that Muslim women unveil.

    I suspect that secularist cannot justify this on the basis of “demonstrable facts alone” what really is going on here is the secularist is relying on controversial philosophical views about what constitutes modesty and privacy. For a certain type of Islam, to uncover your face is morally equivalent to doing a nude photo shot. Now if a particular cheap efficient way of getting a drivers license ID meant that western women had to do nude photo shots, to be stored on file, the secularist would consider the law unjust and find another method of licensing.

    The only reason that they do not take this stance here is that they do not think uncovering your face is on par with stripping naked. Once this is realized however it’s clear the secularist’s position relies on moral claims that the Muslim women rejects. I doubt very much this claim can be demonstrated to be true.

    So again why the asymmetry here, why can laws based on secular beliefs which are not demonstrable facts, impose substantive burdens on Muslim women ( requiring them to do what is from their perspective a nude photo shot in-order to drive) and yet any law based on a religious premise be seen as unacceptable. This seems simply arbitrary.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Wellington Bloggers Drinks on Friday!! =-.

  • In a society where its not the case that a large number of people do not accept these beliefs it ceases to be a bad basis.

    As such a society could exist only in theoretical form, it doesn’t seem like a serious problem. That said, appeal to the supernatural remains a bad basis for lawmaking for merely practical reasons as well, for instance:

    The only reason that they do not take this stance here is that they do not think uncovering your face is on par with stripping naked. Once this is realized however it’s clear the secularist’s position relies on moral claims that the Muslim women rejects. I doubt very much this claim can be demonstrated to be true.

    This would be plausible if there was actually an argument for stripping naked as a requirement for getting a license. You can only make your point plausible by conveniently ignoring the basis for putting a picture on a driver’s licence, the argument for which is way more compelling than anything a woman wearing a burqa for religious reasons can come up with.

    The premises are pretty straightforward. In some situations authorities need to identify the driver of a vehicle (and for the purposes of this discussion, let’s leave out why they should be allowed to do so, or we’ll have written a book by the time we’re finished); therefore the licence that the driver presents to the authority figure should allow said authority figure to identify the bearer as the owner of the licence. The means of establishing that should, in the interests of efficiency, involve as little time as possible, the minimum of equipment and the minimum of expense. Thus far, no-one’s come up with a system that better meets those criteria than putting the owner’s face on the licence.

    In light of that, someone who wishes their face not to be on the licence must come up with at least equally compelling and equally practical reasons why not. What compelling, practical reasons are available in this case from appeals to the supernatural?

    I return to my original point: the asymmetry here is between arguments that are useful and arguments that aren’t.

  • “This would be plausible if there was actually an argument for stripping naked as a requirement for getting a license.”

    Well, to many people, wearing bikini is very embarrassing. To many others it’s nothing big deal. To some muslim women (not all of them hold this custom by the way), having her face looked at by a male who isn’t her husband nor her child is shameful and would be equivalent to being strip search publicly in the Western world.

    So how can you argue against that from secular point of view then?

  • So how can you argue against that from secular point of view then?

    Against what? You have to make an argument before I can offer a counterargument. “It’s shameful” isn’t an argument.

    Suppose I were to feel very strongly that I should be allowed to drive on the opposite side of the road from everyone else. Well, there are very good, practical reasons why we should all drive on the same side, for instance the useful feature of not crashing into each other. If I want to make myself an exception and have this well-justified rule not apply to me, I’d better be able to come up with something a little more convincing than “I feel very strongly about this.” Hadn’t I?
    .-= My last blog-post ..Slazenger Gets a Serve =-.

  • That is a good example. Note here that you’re playing on minority vs majority card. Also mainly because we have built the roads for left side driving. Doing otherwise would be costly.

    But how about if we are about to decide whether to build the roads (so we got no road and we now deciding which side of the road we are going to drive)? In that case, if the majority of people want to build the road for right side driving, then that’s what’s going to be built. There is no solid argument at all, just comes down to what people want/feel. Makes sense if you think about it … the people are the ones who will bear the cost.

    How about providing halal meat in prison? So you think the prisoners must go against their faith?

    How about vegetarian in prison? You think they must not be provided vegetarian food?

    We know in both cases above that they will survive with non-halal or non-vegetarian food.

  • There is no solid argument at all, just comes down to what people want/feel.

    There aren’t many cases where things come down to what the majority feels like. In the case of what side of the road would we drive on if we were starting fresh, there would be factors like what side our nearest neighbours drive on, are our cars best imported from left-hand or right-hand-drive countries and so on. Bottom line: arguments based on practicality and efficiency count for more than “I feel strongly.”

    Re prisoners and halal or vegetarian food: if I was facing being deprived of my freedom and my family, I think questions of whether the prison would be serving the food I like would be fairly low on the priority list. And on a personal level, I think someone who won’t eat perfectly good food because a fictional being might disapprove really needs to take a good look at themselves. Nonetheless, there are certainly decent arguments you can make for giving prisoners halal or vegetarian food, without appeal to the supernatural – for instance, on the basis that denying it would constitute a psychological punishment for them that isn’t imposed on non-Muslim or non-vegetarian prisoners.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Slazenger Gets a Serve =-.

  • “I agree with pretty much everything else you say.”

    As my dear old ma used to always say; great minds think alike!

  • > I think questions of whether the prison would be serving the food I like would be fairly low on the priority list.

    Except that halal and vegetarian isn’t about ‘like’. Rather it is about ones beliefs and faith.

    > on the basis that denying it would constitute a psychological punishment for them that isn’t imposed on non-Muslim or non-vegetarian prisoners.

    If that’s the case, the same psychological argument can be applied to the burqa case, or any other case where people feel strongly as you suggest.

    And we are back to the topic. This is why it’s important to not exclude faith in public discussion. Because it is about the people and belief/faith is part of people.

    This is not the case of religious based state law. This is a case of including and allowing people to discuss and be involved in public discussion from the perspective of their faith/belief.

  • […] my last posts, beginning Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part I,  I set out the doctrine of religious restraint and critiqued some of the key arguments in support […]

  • If that’s the case, the same psychological argument can be applied to the burqa case, or any other case where people feel strongly as you suggest.

    Yes, it could. The question is whether such arguments are compelling when set against the opposing arguments. In the case of not wanting your face on a driver’s licence, it’s a pretty weak argument compared to the opposing ones.

    This is not the case of religious based state law. This is a case of including and allowing people to discuss and be involved in public discussion from the perspective of their faith/belief.

    If you believe that, I suggest you go back and read the post again. It is about “the nature and extent of the justifications offered for coercive laws.” Be involved in public discussion from the perspective of your faith/belief all you like (you are now, for instance), but don’t ask us to pass laws on the basis of it. We have a right to expect logical, practical, compelling arguments for our laws, not an appeal to authority based on the supernatural.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Slazenger Gets a Serve =-.

  • “not an appeal to authority based on the supernatural.”

    And all point of view ends up appealing to the ‘supernatural’ in the end. Not in all cases, but in some cases, especially on moral issues.

  • […] my last posts, beginning Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part I,  I set out the doctrine of religious restraint and critiqued some of the key arguments in support […]

  • Psycho in response to your points
    1. You write “As such a society could exist only in theoretical form, it doesn’t seem like a serious problem. That said, appeal to the supernatural remains a bad basis for lawmaking for merely practical reasons as well, for instance:” this is false that societies where the majority accept some form of religion exist only in theory, one can think of numerous societies in the real world that this is true of.

    2.In response to the Burka issue you write This would be plausible if there was actually an argument for stripping naked as a requirement for getting a license. this begs the question, if the Muslim womens beliefs about Burka’s are correct, the state is demanding the equivalence of her stripping naked to get a license, that would clearly be an unjust law, the only reason you can say this is not occuring is if you assume the Muslim’s beliefs are false, from the outset.

    You go on to suggest that the “ the basis for putting a picture on a driver’s licence, the argument for which is way more compelling than anything a woman wearing a burqa for religious reasons can come up with.” this is because “ The premises are pretty straightforward. In some situations authorities need to identify the driver of a vehicle (and for the purposes of this discussion, let’s leave out why they should be allowed to do so, or we’ll have written a book by the time we’re finished); therefore the licence that the driver presents to the authority figure should allow said authority figure to identify the bearer as the owner of the licence. The means of establishing that should, in the interests of efficiency, involve as little time as possible, the minimum of equipment and the minimum of expense. Thus far, no-one’s come up with a system that better meets those criteria than putting the owner’s face on the licence.”

    Actually the second premise of this argument is I think false and fairly uncompelling it suggests that the means employed in driver identification should be as cheap and efficent as possible. Thats mistaken, it should employ the cheapest most efficent morally permissible means. One can never engage in an immoral means because its cheap and efficent. Hence this secular argument is not compelling at all.

    In light of that, someone who wishes their face not to be on the licence must come up with at least equally compelling and equally practical reasons why not. What compelling, practical reasons are available in this case from appeals to the supernatural?
    Well the women would argue from passages in the Koran and Hadith that Allah commands her to wear a burka. This is clearly practical, it after all tells us what to do in practise. Is it compelling, well it might be to those who accept the authority of the Koran and the Hadith. Of course it won’t be compelling to those who do not. But in this its no different from the argument you give, as I noted above the argument you give has a false premise and hence one many people can and should reject. Neither argument appeals to premises accepted by all rational people.

    3 You conclude “I return to my original point: the asymmetry here is between arguments that are useful and arguments that aren’t.” The problem is you have not shown that religious arguments are never useful and secular ones are. If by useful you mean arguments that are likely to convince others, then both will appeal to premises that some people accept and others do not. The religious person will appeal to religious claims, the secularist to secular moral principles, neither will appeal to premises accepted by all rational people. Both are as useful then as each other.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Contra Mundum: The Flat-Earth Myth =-.

  • The problem is you have not shown that religious arguments are never useful and secular ones are.

    Really? In the example of the driver’s licence photo, the arguments on one side are valid; the argument of the other side amounts to “God said so,” which is in no sense a valid argument.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Gareth Morgan on tax overhaul =-.

  • Psycho, there may be miscommunication here, as its used in philosophical discussions the an argument is said to be valid if and only if its true that if the premises are true then the conclusion must be true. In this sense both arguments are valid, I think it is the case that if God commanded women to wear Burka’s and if divine commands are co-extensive with moral obligations then women would be required to where Burka’s. The real issue is wether the premises in question are true. I happen to think in both cases the premises are false. Ironically there is a sense I think in which the Burka argument is more persuasive than the one you mention, as I think the secular argument contains a premise which can fairly obviously be shown to be false. The Burka argument on the other hand can be shown to be false only if a person delves into certain controversial issues of theology and philosophy of religion. One would have to show either that Allah does not exist, or show that he did not inspire the Koran and Hadith in any relevant sense, or that these documents are not plausibly interpreted so as to require Burka wearing. Nether claim is simply obvious in a way that all intelligent educated people will immediately accept it, unless you assume that no educated intelligent Muslims exist, something I take to be fairly obviously false.

    I myself can think of an argument in favour of the Burka women which is better than both. It goes like this [1] its prima facie wrong to require people to act in violate their religious beliefs and act in a manner that they consider themselves to be engaging in the equivalent of a pornographic photo shot, in order to get access to public services like roads. [2] requiring women to take the Burka of for a drivers license does this.

    Now I think [1] is plausible, I would base it in part however on theological premises about the primacy of conscience, which much western commitment to freedom of religion is historically based on. I doubt I could give a knock down argument from premises all people accept to its truth, but in this it is no different from any argument for any substantial issue of public policy. I suspect however that this theologically based argument would be far more persuasive to most people than either we have discussed so far.

  • […] my last posts, beginning Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part I,  I set out the doctrine of religious restraint and critiqued some of the key arguments in support […]

  • […] RECOMMENDED READING: Religious Restraint and Public Policy […]

  • […] I acknowledge being influenced by my wife Madeleine Flannagan’s supervised research paper “Religious Restraint and Public Policy” which she wrote under the supervision of Professor Rishworth, the Dean of the University of […]

  • […] POSTS: Contra Mundum: Secularism and Public Life Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part I Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part II Religious Restraint and Public Policy: Part III […]