religion, liberalism, constitution
Finding the appropriate sweet spot for religion’s role in the state and how state action may affect the lives of religious people continues to be elusive. Cécile Laborde’s ambitious book Liberalism’s Religion comes down firmly on the side of seeing religion as not distinctive, even in a liberal democracy. To the extent that nonestablishment and free exercise norms should prevail, they should prevail insofar as we can disaggregate religion into components that it shares with nonreligious belief and practice. In this review essay, I advance a position on which Laborde spends little time in her book — religion is distinctive because for religious people, God is at the center of their beliefs and practices, and there’s nothing else like it. In so doing, I suggest that there are good reasons for liberal democracy generally and the U.S. constitutional order specifically to respond to this sociological fact with nonestablishment and free exercise norms that are distinctive to religious belief and practice. Liberalism’s religion need not be disaggregative; it can remain true to core liberal principles while taking seriously the role that God plays in the lives of the devout.
Abner S. Greene,
Liberalism and the Distinctiveness of Religious Belief, 35 Const. Comment. 207
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