Political Liberalism and Religion: On Separation and Establishment

Journal of Political Philosophy Early view, summer 2011

22 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2011

See all articles by Cecile Laborde

Cecile Laborde

University College London, Political Science

Date Written: August 18, 2011

Abstract

THE question of the proper place of religion in the liberal state has gained increasing prominence in Rawlsian political philosophy. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls posited that religious liberty was the most basic of the basic liberties and, in Political Liberalism, he set out to show that sincere religious belief was not incompatible with principled commitment to the liberal state. Should, however, the liberal state be a state of separation (of state and religion) or of recognition and establishment (of religion by the state)? On this matter, political liberals disagree. This article seeks to explain the nature of this disagreement. I first show that political liberalism, as a theory of justice, is inconclusive about the public place of religion. Both separation and establishment (or, more plausibly, a combination of the two) can theoretically meet the demands of liberal justice. I then turn to the core issue of the separation-establishment debate, which asks whether the liberal state can legitimately attach itself to religious symbols. I suggest that (what I call) ‘orthodox’ political liberalism is indeterminate about the symbolic dimensions of the public place of religion. By contrast, a citizenship-centred, ‘republican’ conception of political liberalism decisively rules out symbolic establishment. Political liberal defences of the separation of church and state, such as Martha Nussbaum’s recent eulogy of US Establishment Clause jurisprudence, implicitly rely on such a republican, citizenship-centred conception of political liberalism. The article sets out such a conception, and highlights the role it plays in arguments about the public place of religion.

Suggested Citation

Laborde, Cecile, Political Liberalism and Religion: On Separation and Establishment (August 18, 2011). Journal of Political Philosophy Early view, summer 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1912124

Cecile Laborde (Contact Author)

University College London, Political Science ( email )

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