A Leiter Case for the Superfluousness of Religious Liberty

Why Tolerate Religion

In Why Tolerate Religion? Brian Leiter, author of the Leiter Reports blog and a law professor at the University of Chicago who has an interest in philosophy, asks why Western democracies have sought to promote and protect religion—and religious liberty—in both law and culture.

He explores this question because he’s puzzled by it. As he sees things, “no one has been able to articulate a credible principled argument for tolerating religion qua religion … why, as a matter of moral principle, we ought to accord special legal and moral treatment to religious practices” (emphases throughout are original). He argues that there is no reason that religion should be protected above and beyond any claim of conscience. Indeed, the book’s dust jacket synopsis perfectly captures his view: “Western democracies are wrong to single out religious liberty for special legal protections.” A bold conclusion. Here’s how he gets there.

Leiter asks “what is distinctive about religion such that religion ought to be tolerated.” He identifies three distinguishing characteristics: Religions “issue in categorical demands on action.” Religions “do not answer ultimately (or at the limit) to evidence and reasons … Religious beliefs, in virtue of being based on ‘faith,’ are insulated from ordinary standards of evidence and rational justification, the ones we employ in both common sense and in science.” And religions “render intelligible and tolerable the basic existential facts about human life, such as suffering and death.” In sum: absolute demands, insulated from reason, to provide existential consolation. Why indeed should religion be tolerated?

To answer that question Leiter asserts that the moral claims for religious liberty fall “into Kantian and utilitarian forms.” Rather than actually examining Kant, he turns straightaway to John Rawls’s argument that respect for persons demands protection of equal liberty. He points out that nothing in the Rawlsian argument is specific to religion; it applies to “liberty of conscience” in general.

The utilitarian arguments face a similar defect: We maximize human well-being, he argues, by protecting liberty of conscience writ large, not solely religious liberty: “being able to choose what to believe and how to live”—not just what (if any) religion to embrace—“makes for a better life.” In fact, Leiter thinks, if we respect liberty of conscience partly to foster conditions in which people can revise mistakes and arrive at the truth, religious liberty may make less sense: “there is no reason to think, after all, that tolerating the expression of beliefs that are insulated from evidence and reasons—that is, insulated from epistemically relevant considerations—will promote knowledge of the truth.” Indeed, since “categorical demands that are insulated from evidence have potential (perhaps even a special potential) for harms to well-being,” there is “reason to doubt whether any utilitarian argument for tolerating religion qua religion will succeed.”

Leiter ultimately concludes that the state should “protect liberty of conscience under the rubric of principled toleration,” but “that there should not be exemptions to general laws with neutral purposes, unless those exemptions do not shift burdens or risks onto others.” A Sikh with a ceremonial dagger “should be out of luck” according to Leiter.

What to make of this? Leiter’s argument suffers from a pair of damning flaws. First, he misconceives religion, the nature of religious beliefs, and the relationship between faith and reason (at least as understood by non-fideistic traditions of faith). Second, he wrongly assumes that Kantian and utilitarian arguments are our only options. These two errors are not unconnected. Had Leiter seriously explored both virtue-ethic and natural-law forms of Aristotelian-Thomistic approaches to morality and politics, he might have achieved a better understanding of what religion is and why it deserves special protection.

The good of religion is not primarily about categorical demands or existential comfort; nor do religious people typically believe that their convictions are insulated from reason. Religion is primarily about the deepest truths: coming to know what, if anything, is the ultimate source of existence, meaning, and value, and then trying to order one’s life in line with one’s best judgments. So even before one reaches theistic, or atheistic, or other conclusions, the good of religion—the rational, philosophically defensible quest for harmony with the ultimate source(s) of meaning and value—is what drives one’s search for answers about the deepest questions of existence.

Yet in its focal case, religion is about God, a word and concept that hardly appears in Leiter’s book. What sets religion apart and makes it particularly worth protecting and promoting, is the special value of getting in a right relationship with God. Political communities in the liberal democratic world have singled out religious liberty for special protection because of the conviction that seeking the truth about God, and then adhering to it by relating to whatever God one might conclude exists, is of supreme importance.

And surely it is no accident that the robust conception of religious liberty and tolerance that is at the foundation of the liberal democratic political ideal emerged in societies shaped by the biblical witness to a personal and just God who fashions human beings as free and rational agents (“made in His image and likeness”) who are, whatever their differences in strength, beauty, and intelligence, equal in fundamental dignity.

With this most basic understanding of what religion is, one can see both that the scientific method is inappropriate for assessing religious claims, and that this is no rational defect of religion. Science has principled limits. It presupposes the existence of a world of contingent things—galaxies and quarks, forces and fields—and explains how that world goes from one state to another. Leiter’s appeals to the “standards of evidence and reasoning we everywhere else expect to constitute constraints on judgment” are simply insufficient when we’re exploring the cause of everything else.

This isn’t to say, though, that the truths of religion somehow contradict or conflict with the standards of evidence and reasoning we use everywhere else—they typically employ them but go beyond them. Religion seeks the transcendent cause of the world; here science necessarily runs out. But—at least on the question of theism—reason does not, as the rich history of natural theology shows.

Indeed, Leiter’s treatment of that history is astonishingly superficial. He spends three paragraphs, for example, dismissing Thomistic thought, betraying a stunningly shallow understanding of it and summarily concluding that there are no “lines of thought that converge on the conclusion that one should affirm a transcendent cause.” Never mind Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Pascal, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, and Newman, much less leading contemporary heirs to their project.

Leiter similarly dismisses historical inquiries into whether a transcendent cause has revealed itself. It would be reasonable, after all, once one had reached the conclusion that God exists, to seek out whether He has communicated with his free and rational creatures. Yet in a single paragraph on the resurrection Leiter pronounces that “devout Catholics who still persist in believing in the resurrection of Christ hold that belief insulated from reasons and evidence.” They are not “really serious about following the evidence where it leads,” but are simply “manipulating it to fit preordained ends.” All the intellectual converts to Christianity who thought it was precisely the evidence that led them to faith—from St. Paul and St. Augustine to Elizabeth Anscombe, Michael Dummett, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Bastiaan van Fraassen—must have been fooling themselves. Yet Leiter provides no refutation of the evidence of Christ’s resurrection—beginning with the unanimous testimony of his disciples and their willingness to accept martyrdom for that testimony—which these converts found persuasive.

What does this mean for religious liberty? Contrary to many popular conceptions today, religious liberty isn’t founded on indifferentism, or relativism, or subjectivism, or skepticism: That there’s no meaningful truth at stake in religion, or that if there is we simply can’t know it. Nor should religious liberty be understood as a right to self-authenticity, where the right of religious liberty is conflated with the right of conscience understood as being true to one’s self (especially where one’s “self” is equated with one’s desires).

No, with Newman we should see conscience as a “stern monitor.” It is the faculty of rational moral judgment by which we are capable of distinguishing right and wrong and conforming our conduct to truths about what must and must not be done. This makes sense of Newman’s claim that “conscience has rights because it has duties,” for it has duties to pursue and to adhere to truth. Indeed, conscience has particular duties with respect to the most important truths in life, truths about God. Thus a sound understanding of religious liberty is that religious truth exists, and that we have a moral duty to seek it out and to live our lives accordingly.

Politically, this pursuit and adherence best takes place if it is in no way coerced; indeed religious acts have actual moral merit, actual moral worth, only if freely chosen. God, as understood in the traditions of ethical monotheism, does not desire forced worship; in fact, an act simply could not qualify as an act of worship if it were coerced. Likewise, when conflicting with religious pursuits, even generally applicable laws should take religious goods into account. This helps explain why we have our First Amendment, and why Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to ensure that any law impinging negatively on religious freedom do so only for compelling reasons and in the least restrictive way possible.

Both liberty of conscience and religious liberty ought to be protected. But conflating the right to religious liberty with a more general right of conscience fails to take into account the distinctive good involved with religion, and the ways it can be violated even when conscience is not. Many Catholics do not feel bound by conscience to attend Mass on weekdays. But a law that prevented them from attending, while not violating their rights of conscience, would violate their religious liberty rights. So, too, with the inner workings of religious organizations, their hiring decisions, their determinations of ministers and doctrine, and so on.

So what can one say by way of conclusion? There is an interesting book to be written on the relation of conscience rights and religious liberty, but unfortunately this isn’t it. That book would need to get clear on the real nature of religion and thus the foundations of religious liberty. Academic philosophers—especially philosophers of religion—will likely ignore this book. The rest of us can safely do likewise.

 

Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the Editor of Public Discourse. With Sherif Girgis and Robert P. George he is author of What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defenseto be released by Encounter Books later this month.

Ryan Anderson

Ryan T. Anderson is the the Editor of Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good.

About the Author

Comments

  1. Academic Libertarian Philosopher says

    Mr. Anderson,
    I’m generally sympathetic to most of the substantive parts of this review, at least insofar as in understanding that religion is a more complex phenomenon than merely a set of personal beliefs about morality and cosmology, etc.

    I think you make this point, however, in an unnecessarily provocative manner that can easily be amended. Similarly you stake some claims that shouldn’t be too controversial on absurdly thin grounds.

    First: Why do you need to denigrate Leiter personally? You may not like him for whatever reasons, but why discredit your review in the first paragraph with unnecessarily disrespectful and misleading assertions like “law professor who has an interest in philosophy” implying that Leiter is not an academic philosopher: I’m going to assume you know (if you don’t, minimal homework would have taught you) that Leiter, while housed at U-Chicago Law School has a PhD in Philosophy and was a philosophy prof for many years at U-T Austin. The fact that he doesn’t have a cross appointment at Chicago is due to internal Chicago politics and is totally irrelevant. Why make yourself such an easy target for dismissal in defense of such a silly and false point?
    Secondly, you invoke a whole bunch of adult converts to Catholicism based on evidence of resurrection, miracles, etc. I don’t think this is true of Dummett, and certainly not of Van Fraassen. The latter see further reasons to embrace faith. Why discredit them in the eyes of those who don’t believe in miracles, etc. falsely and unnecessarily, and by so doing discredit your claim that religion is a more complex phenomenon than mere dogmatic belief about certain claimed historical events.
    Third (related to the second, but more substantively): you make the classic, to my mind lazy, move by many on the philosophical right, by conceding all of modernity to make a point: Are you really saying that the only reason Leiter is wrong is because he ignores natural law and virtue ethics? Are you conceding that nothing in the toolkit of philosophical modernity can cope with religion or religious freedom? Don’t you think that that claim is ridiculous and arms your opponents with the easiest way to ignore you? Locke, Kant, Jefferson, these guys were complete creatures of modernity. I cannot imagine a discussion of religious freedom without them. Why make your claim sound lazy, ignorant, and parochial, when the claim can, should, and must be made on sound philosophical grounds? Leiter’s claim is bold and highly controversial even within the confines of contemporary Rawlsian modern liberalism, let alone classical liberalism. Why weaken your claim like this?
    Leiter’s book is one that is worthy of a real response. A review of his book, especially in a high quality site like this one, should be written by somebody with the professional and intellectual competence to do this.

    • WuzYoungOnceToo says

      - “Why do you need to denigrate Leiter personally?”

      After reading Leiter’s blindly partisan ramblings here…

      http://leiterreports.typepad.com/

      …I think Mr. Anderson’s review was unjustifiably generous and kind. Maybe you take seriously someone who wallows in self-loathing tripe like, “More evidence that white men in the U.S. need to be disenfranchised” (just for starters)…but I find it quite impossible.

    • Not an Academic Libertarian says

      This seems fairly straightforward:

      1. Does Leiter hold an academic post as a philosopher? If not, he’s a law professor with an interest in philosophy, just as the review states. Why should anyone read that as a put-down? It’s a straightforward accurate description. (Also, my understanding is that Leiter was given a courtesy appointment in UT’s philosophy department, but has never had a primary appointment in a philosophy department.)

      2. I’m confused by your criticism of the reviewer for citing adult converts to Christianity. Do these converts deny the resurrection? If not, it seems that they do believe in miracles.

      3. I read the review differently than you, the reviewer doesn’t “concede all of modernity,” but he stresses that Leiter forces a false dichotomy by focusing only on Kantian and Utilitarian options. A lot of philosophy, especially about religion, exists outside of those two venerable traditions. In a short web-review one doesn’t “concede” by choosing to focus one’s precious few words elsewhere. The reviewer clearly thought neo-Aristotelian and neo-Thomistic arguments provide a better foundation. That doesn’t make his arguments “lazy, ignorant, and parochial.”

      But clearly this review struck a nerve with you.

  2. Another Reader says

    As someone looking at a copy of the book under review, I thought I would note that the discussion of Thomistic thought occupies pages 86-90 of the book, and includes lengthy quotations from John Finnis, which are then critiqued in some detail. It would be interesting to know what the reviewer’s counter-arguments to that critique are.

    • Another Reader wants to hear more says

      I went and checked my copy of the book. You are right, there is a discussion of Finnis from page 86-90. (And it should be noted that these are rather small pages, with big margins and a large font–this is not a typical academic book.) Anyway, there’s a short quote from Finnis, and then a slightly longer one (I counted 137 words). Then there are, just as the reviewer states, 3 paragraphs dismissing it. Then that section of the book ends, and a page later that chapter ends. So, “Another Reader,” you claim the view is “then critiqued in some detail.” Really? Where?

      Before asking what the counter-argument to the critique is, how about telling us what the critique is? I read it like the reviewer: He dismisses it out of hand .

      • Yet another reader says

        This is the crux of the critique (from p. 89):
        “It is not a norm of rationality–Finnis has no account of those–that things we observe are explicable in terms of antecedent causes; it is an inductive inference based on past success. It is clearly defeasible, which belies its purported status as a ‘norm of rationality': no one is unreasonable should they conclude that a particular phenomenon is a product of chance….Norms of rationality, one might have thought, have the feature that should you violate them you are necessarily unreasonable. But since it is reasonable–that is, since it answers to norms of rationality and evidence–to sometimes conclude that a particular phenomenon is purely a ‘product’ of chance, it would follow that there is no ‘norm of rationality’ at work here.”
        He also makes a few critical points about Finnis’s ignorance about the epistemology of science. I think what really has the various Catholics here upset is that after quoting Finnis at length, and demolishing his claims about rationality, Leiter concludes that “dogmatic incantation of ‘norm of rationality’ functions, alas, in Thomistic discourse as a bludgeon meant to cow the opposition and vindicate the epistemic bona fides of irrational and long-discredited positions without any actual argument or evidence. The dialectical bankruptcy of Thomism…is apparent to everyone outside the relevant sectarian group….” Ouch.

        • Thomas Aquinas says

          The confusions in the quote are numerous. First, the mind that makes the observation that X is the result of chance must be a mind ordered toward the acquisition of knowledge and capable of drawing inferences. That is not a “norm of rationality,” to be sure, but it is a first principle about one’s nature that is necessary to get the whole project off the ground. Since Leiter has for years maintained that philosophy must emulate the hard sciences in order to be considered a legitimate discipline of inquiry, he is cut off from this sort of analysis. He can’t see it because his methodology prevents him from seeing it. So, the whole Thomistic project is “nonsense,” because it does not fit his preconceived dogma of neo-positivism. That’s not a refutation. That’s just veracity by stipulation, and is hardly philosophical. Second, because of the commitments Leiter is operating under he can’t see that his assessment of Finnis’ view of chance is wide off the mark. Of course, Finnis would not deny that the mind is ordered toward knowing that some phenomenon is the product of chance. But “purely” a product of chance? What could that possibly mean? If, for example, I discovered that human beings are the product of natural selection plus random mutation, in a sense, it would seem like human beings are the product of “chance.” But that understanding of chance requires a cluster of background beliefs about nature itself. The only way that I can say that phenomenon X is a product of chance is that I know that nature left to its own devices would not necessarily produce X. But those “devices,” the natural order, is not “chance.”

          When I throw dice, what results is a product of chance. But not “purely” a product of chance, since the dice, the conceptual framework by which I assess the throw, etc. must be ordered so that I can make the “chance” judgment.

          Because such an analysis cannot be whittled down to several numbered premises and a conclusion, and because it does not remotely look what scientists do, Leiter excludes it a priori. But, again, that’s not a refutation.

        • Response to Another Reader says

          Sigh. First, that’s not an argument, nor a critique, it’s just rhetorical bluster. Second, it doesn’t engage with Finnis’s actual argument–since rationality norms do not function as Leiter “supposes” they must. Hence, Finnis write:

          “So, one of the many rationality norms is: an adequate explanatory reason why something is so rather than otherwise is to be expected, unless one has a reason not to expect such an explanatory reason. Chance, of course, there is aplenty in a world where events and processes, each of which has its own intelligible explanation(s) coincide. But science progresses constantly by treating chance as the residuum of coincidence in a domain dominated by what is explicable because it is not chance.”

          How does Leiter’s “critique” even engage this? It doesn’t.

          Finnis continues:

          “Absolutely no entity, process, or other state of affairs in the world we can in any way experience or know shows any sign of necessarily–or, for that matter, causelessly–being what it is; or any sign of either necessarily or causelessly being actual rather than non-existent, or necessarily or causelessly doing which it does or changing as it does. Postulating that the while (the universe or cosmos or universe of universes) has existed for an infinite time–a postulate that philosophers like Moses Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas are happy, indeed keen, to entertain–does not make it reasonable to predicate of the whole either a necessity or a causlessness that is discoverable in none of its component entities or state of affairs. Far more reasonable is it to infer that the actuality and intelligibility of every entity, process, or state of affairs result from a sui generis reality which has what it takes both to exist–be actual–without being because and to causes, intelligently, absolutely every such resultant (‘created’) entity, process, and state of affairs.”

          Leiter’s response simply misses the point.

  3. Engineer says

    Sounds like specious and inflammatory reasoning to justify an obviously sensible thesis.

    Leiter doesn’t understand what religion is about. But vegans and hijabis should be accommodated according to the same criteria.

  4. says

    I am sure Mr. Anderson can fend for himself — as, we all know, Brian Leiter can — but he might answer the first question by saying that his provocative formulation is appropriate where Leiter, notwithstanding his credentials, has evidently approached the question of the philosophy of religion, not like an academic philosopher with genuine intellectual curiosity, but like an advocate. The use of the “preordained” swipe by Leiter seems rather ironic, since anyone familiar with his thought is aware that, just as the title of this book more than hints at a preordained answer to the question he pretends to pose, the answer is indeed one that was never really in doubt at any point in the intellectual process.

  5. ChrisTS says

    As the first commenter notes, Prof. Leiter is certainly more than a law professor ‘interested in’ philosophy. He is an accomplished philosopher – as even those of us who might not agree with his philosophical views recognize.

    Secondly, Aristotle did not recognize a ‘transcendent cause’ in the sense that Thomas wished upon him. At the very least, this is a matter of serious dispute among Aristotelian scholars; unsurprisingly, those who are Christians and/or Thomists favor your reading of one brief discussion from the entire corpus.

    And, finally, this is just fallacious form start to finish:

    “Both liberty of conscience and religious liberty ought to be protected. But conflating the right to religious liberty with a more general right of conscience fails to take into account the distinctive good involved with religion, and the ways it can be violated even when conscience is not. Many Catholics do not feel bound by conscience to attend Mass on weekdays. But a law that prevented them from attending, while not violating their rights of conscience, would violate their religious liberty rights.”

    You need to argue for, not assert, the special benefits of religion. Further, any law that prevented any person from meeting with those who share a view would be both a violation of liberty of conscience and liberty of association. Religious persons are not special in this context.

  6. Theophilus says

    The author dismantles Leiter’s arguments expertly. Why does it discredit his review to include a bit of well-placed acerbity in the mix? There are no ad hominems here–just some apt criticisms of the man to complement the arguments against his claims. I say apt because Leiter’s book (like almost all of his attempts at philosophy) isn’t just mistaken in its conclusions; it’s an intellectual joke. There are many thinkers who are wrong but are still worth reading. Leiter isn’t one of them. Thus Anderson’s conclusion: “Academic philosophers—especially philosophers of religion—will likely ignore this book. The rest of us can safely do likewise.”

  7. says

    The case for religious liberty is an empiric one, not one based on principles such as above. People identify with, and hence are identified by, their religion. Societies wherein religious liberty is not respected have been those in which religious identification is used as a tool of oppression of groups so identified. Although ideally such oppression would be nonexistent if other freedoms were respected, the fact that the ideal is far from achieved means that the particular freedom of religion has been valuable and indispensible. This is not the only freedom which while a priori redundant turns out to be important in practice.

  8. Brett Bellmore says

    My answer would be that, apart from the specific demands of the 1st amendment, we shouldn’t accord religion any special liberty. Rather, we should generally accord people, religious or not, enough liberty that religion doesn’t need any special treatment.

    You don’t need an exemption for communion wine, if you don’t have a prohibition.

    You don’t need an exemption for peyote in religious ceremonies, if you don’t have a war on drugs.

    You don’t need to exempt Catholics from an abortion mandate, if you’re not mandating that anyone pay for abortions.

    In short, you don’t need to give religion special treatment for it to flourish, if your society is free to begin with.

    This whole argument only comes up because we’re not free.

    • says

      But do you think the exemptions make the general freedom less likely to be adopted/granted/conceded? That’s a serious question. Does the “safety valve” of exemptions reduce pressure against general impositions on liberty? Or does the existence of exemptions work to encourage more exemptions and/or general liberty? I think the latter is the more likely dynamic in most cases, but I’d like to know if you have good reason to think otherwise.

      • Brett Bellmore says

        I’d *like* to think the latter was the more common dynamic, but see no reason to suppose it is. The exemptions are just an all too successful way of buying off the people most inclined to resist a particular imposition.

  9. wolfefan says

    I think Rhymes with Right dodges the question, which is why does the first amendment require it? Brett Bellmore does a better job – the issue is not really liberty for the religious, but liberty for all. Why should the religious have special liberties all their own?

  10. Varados says

    Religion deserves the same respect as any idea or school of thought: anything from nothing to all. It may be a great evil or a valuable boon to all. Either one is free to believe and act upon held principles or not. Either personal agency is tantamount or the state owns its citizens. Anderson belongs to the latter category and is therefore suspect. Without reading Leiter, it is impossible to make a conclusion based upon the review.

  11. Rockerbabe says

    Religious liberty should be tolerated up to a point. Most religions on this planet as well as the culturals that are greatly influenced by this thinking, often hold certain people as inferior. Such as women in general and other people “not like us”. While I think this is aweful, I just tolerate these beliefs to a point.

    The point were I begin to not tolerate this thinking, occurs when their beliefs negatively impact my well-being and the well-being of others like me. When religion pushes the belief that large groups of people are not worthy of equal treatment under the law and that unequal treatment negatively impacts those folks well-being, then the common good, as espoused by our founding documents, must be held at bay. Laws that are based on the discriminatory beliefs of certain religions should not be tolerated, when citizens are or will be harmed by the denial of justice. Religion that promotes discrimination and unequal treatment should not be seriously considered, especially in a society that is very diverse. There should be a set of common core beliefs and the laws that support these believes. To do otherwise is a travesty of the common good and equal treament under the law.

  12. Steve Skeete says

    I have not read the book but the use of the word “tolerate” in the title rather than, for example, “respect”, already set the tone which the reviewer seems to have repeated. It is simply a matter of an attitude “reproducing after its own kind”.

    There are, in my view at least three reason why religion is “tolerated”. The first, and perhaps the most obvious, in that most societies, even in these “enlightened” times, were or are religious, and people have always attached great credence to religious beliefs. The “gods” have always been important in society.

    Second, in spite of the “rogues” among the “faithful” religion has mainly sought to bring some benefit to society. The question is asked “why should the religious soup kitchen be treated differently from the “secular” one”? The answer may very well be that while the one may exist as a business to make a profit, the other invariably operates as a charity to feed the hungry poor.

    A third reason for “tolerating” religion may relate to the fact that it provides meaning for a vast majority seeking answers to questions of being, existence and destiny, to whom it offers hope in life and consolation at death, gifts for which there are no viable substitutes.

    There does seem to be something about man, or at least something in man that keeps reminding him that life, for the majority, is often hard, cruel and short, but somehow precious. Religion seems to emphasize the latter and perhaps is credited with “tolerance for so doing.

  13. Federico says

    Leiter asks “what is distinctive about religion such that religion ought to be tolerated.

    Because everyone has a religion/philosophy/morality. And if there is no freedom of religion, then a particular government ideology reigns, and I mean reigns.

    You never really thought about it?

    • Hermonta Godwin says

      The problem with such toleration is that various religions make contradictory claims. Since such is the case, how do you write laws that tolerate all sides?

  14. Andrew says

    It strikes me that the entire debate has veered off into abstract realms unthought of by the original drafters.

    Consider (and feel free to correct me if these premises are incorrect):
    – the authors were mostly theists, deists, or token deists
    – the authors came out of an environment where (it was perceived that) the Church was a tool of the state, subject to the state’s whims, and people could be imprisoned for practicing their Christianity (and it was nearly exclusively some variety of Christianity) in a manner contrary to the way dictated by the state.

    In other words, the Constitution is not trying to prevent the government from being religious, but to prevent it from being the arbiter of religion. Which is pretty much exactly the opposite of what is happening, in the name of the Constitution.

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