Saturday, July 21, 2007

Koppleman and Somin on the role of Religion in Public Discourse:

Northwestern University Law Professor Andrew Koppelman and Volokh's Ilya Somin both have good posts on the role of religious arguments in public discourse. Though, the notion that it is simply inappropriate to rely on bald appeals to scripture or church doctrine for what ought to be public policy written into the civil laws does not, I would argue, trace to Rawls (the one who most notably made the modern case for such), but to our Founding Fathers, or perhaps even further to the natural law philosophers who preceded them.

This issue was addressed seriously in a seminar on the anniversary of Father Neuhaus' book, "The Naked Public Square" put on by Robbie George's James Madison Program at Princeton. One of the speakers noted that some of Neuhaus' arguments parallel Rawls' in the sense that Thomistic Catholics tend to eschew naked appeals to revelation or Church doctrine but believe "public arguments" must be translated into the language of natural law, which, in principle, all men (regardless of religious creed) can access through reason.

This is the way Catholic theocons, as opposed to Protestant Christianists, argue.

As I noted in this post, the irony is many of our Protestant Founders were quite suspicious of, indeed could be downright bigoted towards Roman Catholics. But, as "enlightened Protestants," they too believed in making public arguments under the rubrics of "nature" and "reason" while eschewing blatant appeals to revelation or ecclesiastical doctrine.

Yet, the million $ question is whether their understanding of the natural law/natural rights is the same or even at all similar as the Catholic Church's (or Thomism's).

I believe there are some profound differences there.

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