New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type

Article

Abstract

Using as an exemplar, the 2007 "Evangelical Declaration against Torture," this paper examines the role of religious argument in public life. The Declaration was drawn up by David Gushee, University Professor at Mercer University, and others. It argues for an absolute ban on the use of torture deploying unashamedly Christian rhetoric, some of it quite powerful and challenging. For example, it says: " [T]he Holy Spirit participates in human pathos with groans and sighs too deep for words. The cries of the tortured are in a very real sense, … the cries of the Spirit." The present paper considers whether there is any affront to the duties of political civility in arguing in these terms. There is a line of argument, associated with John Rawls's book, "Political Liberalism," suggesting that citizens should refrain from discussing issues of public policy in religious or deep-philosophical terms that are not accessible to other citizens. The present paper challenges the conception of inaccessibility on which this Rawlsian position is based. It argues, with Jurgen Habermas, that all sides in a modern pluralist society have a right to state their views as firmly and as deeply as they can, and all sides have the duty to engage with others, and to strain as well as they can to grasp others' meanings. It is not enough to simply announce that one can not understand religious reasons, especially if no good faith effort has been made, using the ample resources available in our culture, to try. Of course, many peoeple will not be convinced by the reasons that are offered in religious discourse; but to argue for their rejection - which is always what may happen in respectable political deliberation - is not to say that the presentation of those reasons was offensive or inappropriate. (This paper was originally presented as the 2010 Meador Lecture at the University of Virginia Law School).

Date of Authorship for this Version

12-2010