After the election, there were a lot of arguments about the extent to which people were trying to effect religious goals via their votes. There wasn’t much discussion, however, about whether this would be proper, save a little bit in a thread Lumpy (anyone seen him lately?) started on some society founded to keep Christians out of politics.
I’ve argued before that religious motivations are equally valid as any other moral motivations, and I wanted to post this recent observation, by Eugene Volokh, to provoke some discussion on the topic of propriety:
Eugene Volokh, November 16, 2004 at 8:13pm] Possible Trackbacks
Imposing One’s Religious Dogma on the Legal System:
I keep hearing evangelical Christian leaders criticized for “trying to impose their religious dogma on the legal system,” for instance by trying to change the law to ban abortion, or by trying to keep the law from allowing gay marriage. I’ve blogged about this before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again.
I like to ask these critics: What do you think about the abolitionist movement of the 1800s? As I understand it, many – perhaps most or nearly all – of its members were deeply religious people, who were trying to impose their religious dogma of liberty on the legal system that at the time legally protected slavery.
Or what do you think about the civil rights movement? The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after all, was one of its main leaders, and he supported and defended civil rights legislation as a matter of God’s will, often in overtly religious terms. He too tried to impose his religious dogma on the legal system, which at the time allowed private discrimination, and in practice allowed governmental discrimination as well.
Or how about religious opponents of the draft, opponents of the death penalty, supporters of labor unions, supporters of welfare programs, who were motivated by their religious beliefs – because deeply religious people’s moral beliefs are generally motivated by their religious beliefs – in trying to repeal the draft, abolish the death penalty, protect labor, or better the lot of the poor? Perhaps their actions were wrong on the merits; for instance, maybe some anti-poverty problems caused more problems than they solved, or wrongly took money from some to give to others. But would you condemn these people on the grounds that it was simply wrong for them to try to impose their religious beliefs on the legal system?
My sense is that the critics of the Religious Right would very rarely levy the same charges at the Religious Left. Rather, they’d acknowledge that religious people are entitled to try to enact their moral views (which stem from their religious views) into law, just as secular people are entitled to try to enact their moral views (which stem from their secular, but generally equally unprovable, moral axioms) into law.
Now some particular legal proposals may well be wrong. Perhaps banning abortion, or setting up welfare programs, or abolishing the death penalty violates people’s rights, or is bad social policy, or what have you. But if that’s so, then these proposals would then be equally wrong whether they’re suggested by religious people for religious reasons, or by secular people for secular reasons. And conversely, if particular legal proposals are morally and pragmatically right, then religious people are just as entitled as secular people to advocate them.
So people should certainly criticize the proposals of the Religious Right (or Religious Left or Secular Right or Secular Left) that they think are wrong on the merits. But they would be wrong to conclude that the proposals are illegitimate simply on the grounds that the proposals rest on religious dogma. Religious people are no less and no more entitled than secular people to enact laws based on their belief systems.
And they would be quite inconsistent to (1) say that religious people ought not enact law based on their religious views, and nonetheless (2) have no objection when religious people do precisely that as to abolition of slavery, enactment of antidiscrimination laws, abolition of the death penalty, repeal of the draft, and so on.