Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Francis Beckwith: "Same-Sex Marriage and the Failure of Justificatory Liberalism"

Prof. Francis J. Beckwith of Baylor University (and currently visiting professor at Notre Dame) has an interesting piece at the First Things blog On the Square:
In the post-election discussions on Proposition 8 much has been made about the religious make-up of those that supported the amendment. Take, for example, the comments of Professor Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School:
Proposition 8 was enacted by a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent. Those identifying themselves as Evangelicals, however, supported Proposition 8 by a margin of 81 percent to 19 percent, and those who say they attend church services weekly supported Proposition 8 by a vote of 84 percent to 16 percent. Non-Christians, by the way, opposed Proposition 8 by a margin 85 percent to 15 percent and those who do not attend church regularly opposed Proposition 8 by a vote of 83 percent to 17 percent.

What this tells us, quite strikingly, is that Proposition 8 was a highly successful effort of a particular religious group to conscript the power of the state to impose their religious beliefs on their fellow citizens, whether or not those citizens share those beliefs. This is a serious threat to a free society committed to the principle of separation of church and state.
Setting aside the question of what Stone could possibly mean by “a particular religious group” (since that “group” would include Mormons, Catholics, and Evangelicals), what he seems to be suggesting is a version of what is called justificatory liberalism. Because there are many different versions of this position, I will focus on what I think Prof. Stone is defending. He seems to be saying something like this: Because religious citizens have an understanding of sources of authority, background beliefs, and reasons not shared by their neighbors, they should restrain from employing those sources as the basis for the reasons why they enact laws that limit the liberty of their fellow citizens who do not share those sources of authority.

But it’s not clear why religious citizens should accept this rule if they have fulfilled all their epistemic duties and believe that they have good grounds for the coercive laws they support, even if those grounds are supported by premises not held by all. It is the case, after all, that each of us comes to the public conversation with a cluster of beliefs that we hold for a variety of reasons, many of which are based on both arguments we have carefully assessed as well as authorities that we believe are reliable and have no reason to distrust. But in that case, the typical non-religious citizen enters the public square in precisely the same position as the typical religious one. And in both cases, each likely supports laws that he or she thinks are reasonable and necessary but that in some cases have the consequence of limiting the liberties of others, even though each is not likely to see that consequence as a net harm, since each will see it as an advancement of justice and the public good. Consider the following example...

(Hat tip: Southern Appeal and What's Wrong with the World)

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At 12/10/2008 8:03 PM, Blogger Tito Edwards said...

Good article.


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