Democratic Equality and Freedom of Religion: Beyond Coercion v. Persuasion
Journal of Philosophy and Public Issues
freedom of expression, freedom of religion, equality, taxation, subsidy, democracy, liberté de conscience, liberté d'expression, égalité, taxation, subvention, démocratie
According to Corey Brettschneider, we can protect freedom of religion and promote equality, by distinguishing religious groups’ claims to freedom of expression and association from their claims to financial and verbal support from the state. I am very sympathetic to this position, which fits well with my own views of democratic rights and duties, and with the importance of recognizing the scope for political choice which democratic politics offers to governments and to citizens.1 This room for political choice, I believe, is necessary if people are to have any chance of reconciling the conflicting moral and political obligations they are likely to face, however idealized our conception of democracy or morality. Granted that no amount of personal and political choice will ever guarantee that we do not encounter tragic choices, and painfully conflicting moral demands, it is an important feature of democracy – or so I believe – that its rights reflect the importance of mitigating these conflicts so that people are able, as a rule, to act as they ought, so that they do not experience their moral sentiments, beliefs and capacities simply as grounds for recrimination, alienation and despair. I therefore believe that democracies have good reason not to force the consciences of the undemocratic and the intolerant, where it is possible to accommodate such people without threatening the rights of others. However, the fact that I share many of Brettschneider’s intuitions and beliefs does not mean that I share them all. In particular, I find his conception of democracy unduly narrow, and unduly based on a rather idealized conception of the American constitution which is unlikely to appeal to those whose conceptions of democracy are more republican, more socialist, more pragmatic and more international than his. This article relates those worries to Brettschneider's distinction between coercion and persuasion and his claims about how we should draw the public/private distinction in the case of religion.