I want to begin by thanking Corey for the opportunity to read his wonderful book. I found it well-written, original, and thought-provoking, and I am sympathetic to many aspects of his approach. While I sometimes disagreed, I always struggled to find good reasons to justify my disagreement, which is the mark of a sharp argument! Since Kevin has already summarized the main points of Chapter 5, I won’t do that again. Instead, I’d like to reflect on the issue of religious freedom against the background of the book as a whole.
I want to focus on a question raised by Corey himself, toward the end of Chapter 5: does the account of democratic persuasion defended here risk the “extinction” of religion (157)? Chapter 5’s main argument is that the state, in its expressive capacity, ought to attempt to transform its citizens’ religious beliefs when those beliefs oppose liberal democracy’s core values. This is a provocative view, not least because it raises the specter of incompatibility between certain types of religious faith and good citizenship. Is it possible for an Orthodox Jew, a practicing Catholic, an evangelical Protestant, or a conservative Muslim to be a good citizen of a value democracy, without transforming their religious doctrines to the point where these doctrines are nearly indistinguishable from a secular ethical liberalism?
An analogous worry is familiar from popular culture, where religious people often raise suspicious objections about “transformative” liberal projects. Their objection is that while these liberal projects are “officially” capable of being endorsed by a wide variety of doctrines and perspectives, in reality they turn out to be extensionally equivalent to a secular ethical liberalism. While I am not myself religious, I feel some sympathy for these objections, and I think it is important for political liberals to show that such suspicions are false. They need to demonstrate that one can be a devout religious believer and a good political liberal at the same time.
Before exploring further, I want to clarify the sense in which I am asking whether religious believers can be good citizens. Corey emphasizes many times over that individuals have fundamental rights to religious liberty and to basic freedoms of association, conscience, and expression. The means-based constraint on the state’s democratic persuasion holds that the state must respect these rights in its efforts at transformation, even in cases where citizens espouse doctrines opposed to democratic values. Corey is crystal clear that religious believers may not be coercively sanctioned by the state for their views. So I am not arguing that Corey denies one can adhere to certain (hateful or discriminatory) religious doctrines and still be a lawful citizen of a liberal democracy, free from coercive penalty.
Yet the matter does not end there. For Corey also emphasizes that liberal citizens are under an (unenforceable) moral duty to engage in “reflective revision” of their private beliefs, including their religious beliefs. And where citizens fail to adequately revise their beliefs on their own, the state may exercise its expressive capacity to criticize their views. A virtuous citizen, it seems, is one who makes good on this duty of reflective revision. What I want to know is whether a citizen can be fully virtuous—having reflectively revised her views—and still be religious? Would an “ideal” democracy, composed of all and only virtuous citizens, be a completely secular democracy?
Corey would say, I think, that it is possible for religious people to remain religious once their views have been adequately reflectively revised, and this seems right. Indeed, his ability to say this seems quite important for the success of his overall project. Corey emphasizes that the normative ideal that motivates his project is a political ideal, not a religious or metaphysical one. One can believe that people ought to be treated as political equals without necessarily accepting that they are metaphysically or comprehensively equal in all respects. (On p. 35, he states, for example, that one might refuse—compatibly with political values—to accept that all people are equal in the eyes of God, since some fail to endorse the true religion).
But these “official” statements on Corey’s part do not fully lay my worry to rest. What I want to know is how it is possible for religious people to remain religious once their views are reflectively revised, and we cannot answer this question until we have a fuller handle on the requirement of reflective revision. According to Corey, reflective revision requires the following: a virtuous citizen must internalize the moral reasons that underlie democratic rights and she must use those reasons to transform her religious and private beliefs in order to make them consistent with democratic values. The question is: how thoroughgoing is this transformation process meant to be? How distinguishable is an acceptable end product of this process from a comprehensive ethical liberalism? Does reflective revision require us to jettison any and all private inegalitarian commitments? Or is it compatible with some residual inegalitarian elements in our comprehensive views, as long as these elements do not “infect” our commitment to the public values of liberal democratic citizenship?
I want to explore various possible models of reflective revision on Corey’s behalf, noting their benefits and drawbacks. First, consider a very weak model of reflective revision: the pure political model. On this model, a citizen adequately meets the requirement of reflective revision as long as he discards any private beliefs that entail that people should not be afforded equal legal rights of citizenship. It is consistent with the pure political model, however, that he remains committed to many other inegalitarian beliefs, as long as these do not affect his political views. A person could see blacks as biologically inferior, or women as emotional and weak—and even act on these beliefs in his family or in civil society—so long as he did not conclude that these beliefs justify limiting these groups’ legal rights. Occasionally Corey says things that point toward this model—for example, he claims that some religious groups “whose internal policies make them appear hostile to [democratic] principles might not be subject to transformation, as long as they do not seek to impose their religious beliefs on others with the force of law” (165). But mostly he rejects this model as too weak.
Corey argues that our duty of reflective revision extends to beliefs and practices that go beyond public law-making to traditionally “private” spheres, like the family or civil society. He defends the principle of public relevance: “private” beliefs and practices that conflict with the ideal of free and equal citizenship can be matters of public concern, and they should be changed to make them compatible with democratic values. Such inegalitarian beliefs and practices are publicly relevant when they affect “the ability of citizens to function in society and to see others as free and equal citizens” (29). Two examples of publicly relevant beliefs discussed by Corey are: a father who, as an official on the town school board, votes for equal funding for boys’ and girls’ sports programs, but forbids his own daughters from competing in sports, in the belief that they should instead learn domestic skills (56); and a university teacher who refuses to mentor certain students on racist or sexist grounds (65). Both these people, says Corey, have duties to revise their beliefs even though these beliefs do not obviously affect their engagement in law-making or limit other people’s legal rights. Because Corey argues that reflective revision extends to traditionally “private” spheres, we must therefore reject the pure political model as the proper interpretation of reflective revision.
But if pure political model is not enough, how far are we to go? How do we know which private beliefs and practices are publicly relevant? Is it all of them, or only some partial subset? I am not entirely sure of Corey’s answer. He cites three factors that might help us further interpret public relevance: democratic congruence, interconnection, and public trust. Of these three, as Sarah Conly noted in her post, democratic congruence and public trust apply only to public officials. But the third factor, interconnection, also applies to ordinary citizens, and could be a promising guide to interpreting public relevance’s boundaries. The idea behind interconnection is that sometimes ostensibly “private” decisions by nongovernmental actors have the potential to undermine people’s effective ability to attain and enjoy equal citizenship. The basic thought is that equal citizenship is not just a formal legal right, but also requires the presence of sufficient material options and opportunities, and sometimes people’s private decisions impact the availability of these options and opportunities. This points to a possible interpretation of the principle of public relevance: when our private beliefs and behavior are interconnected with our fellow-citizens’ ability to effectively enjoy equal citizenship, we have a responsibility to reflectively revise those inegalitarian beliefs, so as not to unduly limit their options and opportunities. But where our private beliefs are not interconnected with public outcomes, they need not be revised or criticized. Corey does not further develop this idea of interconnection, however, and it’s hard to know exactly how to spell it out.
Having rejected the pure political model, then, let me suggest two other models of reflective revision that might fit with Corey’s project. The first I call the filtering model. On this model, all our private beliefs and practices are publicly relevant, whether religious or not, whether they belong to a traditionally “private” sphere or not. Any belief that is incompatible with the democratic ideal of free and equal citizenship needs to be discarded or revised. The intuitive idea is that we must “filter” our private comprehensive views through a “sieve” of democratic freedom and equality. If any of our pre-existing views don’t fit through the sieve, then we revise or discard them until they all do. If we adopt the filtering model of reflective revision, then there is unlikely to be much space in the end between a comprehensive ethical liberalism and the acceptable product of a religious citizen’s reflective revision process. There would be no contexts in which one might permissibly believe that homosexuality is condemned, that women were meant to stay home and raise children, or that interracial marriage is unacceptable, because none of these commitments can pass through the filter of democratic values. What can pass the filter are “comprehensive” analogues of political freedom and equality, and perhaps some additional theological grounding for these values. If the filtering model is the right model of reflective revision, then I think the religious person’s worry—that an Orthodox Jew, an evangelical Christian, or a practicing Catholic is not going to end up being an acceptable liberal citizen—starts to have some bite.
But there are intimations in Corey’s text of another, slightly weaker, model of reflective revision: call this the contextual model. On the contextual model, not all religious beliefs and practices are publicly relevant, because some beliefs operate only in contexts that have no impact on one’s fellow citizens’ ability to enjoy the options and opportunities of equal citizenship. Corey points toward something like this model at certain points in the text: for example, at p. 135, he says that banning Catholic female priests or Orthodox women rabbis “does not implicate [women’s] larger status in society,” and at p. 136, he claims that “not all theological inequalities are civic inequalities.” The contextual model holds out the promise of a residual “private” sphere of religious belief and practice: a virtuous citizen is free to hold whatever inegalitarian religious beliefs she wants in contexts where those beliefs do not jeopardize other people’s enjoyment of the options and opportunities of equal citizenship.
On this view, it might be perfectly acceptable to believe that the sexes should remain segregated at religious services, that God condemns homosexuality, or that interfaith marriage should be frowned upon, as long as adherents can act on these beliefs (perhaps within their religious communities) without in any way undermining their fellow-citizens’ equal status within the wider society. If this is possible, then religious people should be permitted to retain their inegalitarian doctrines, and should not be subjected to democratic persuasion at the hands of the state. But where inegalitarian religious beliefs begin to undermine others’ effective equal status, these beliefs ought to be revised or discarded. If citizens refuse to revise their doctrines on their own, then the state can engage in democratic persuasion of them.
The contextual model seems potentially attractive as a way for the political liberal to go beyond the pure political approach, while still accommodating a private sphere of religious belief. It may not lay to rest all the worries of the religious citizen, but it does show that it is possible in principle for a virtuous citizen to hold comprehensive doctrines that are not extensionally equivalent to secular ethical liberalism. What really needs fleshing out for this model to work is the idea of interconnection. Exactly what material options and opportunities must one enjoy to be an effectively equal citizen? How do we know if our private religious practices are unduly limiting these opportunities?
To conclude, I want to ask whether there any limit to the religious beliefs a virtuous citizen could be required to revise in a value democracy. Does it matter whether the beliefs are of a particularly intimate and personal nature, or if they are especially central to one’s theological outlook? Consider three examples. A Baptist mother raises her three teenage daughters in accordance with traditional gender stereotypes, citing Ephesians 5:22: “Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” An Orthodox Jewish synagogue refuses to recognize interfaith marriages because it fears they will lead to the destruction of the Jewish people. A Catholic university refuses to provide abortion counseling or contraception in its student health service. Will these people be required to revise their beliefs in a value democracy? How Corey answers that question seems to me important in judging whether members of mainstream religions can in the end be virtuous citizens on his view.