Democratic Authority and the Separation of Church and State
University Press 2011
In a liberal democratic society, individuals share political power as equals. Consequently, liberal democratic governments must recognize each citizen as a political equal. This requires, in part, that liberal democratic governments must seek to govern on the basis of reasons that all citizens could endorse. However, the freedoms secured by liberal democratic institutions give rise to a plurality of religious and moral doctrines, and thus a morally and religiously diverse citizenry. Liberal democratic states, then, must try to govern on the basis of noncontroversial principles, and must avoid governing on the basis of contentions moral and religious ideas. Religious principles are notoriously controversial among liberal democratic citizens; consequently, it is widely thought that a liberal democratic government must not employ controversial religious reasons when deciding policy. Hence the familiar commitment to the separation of church and state, and the corresponding idea that government must be neutral when it comes to the Big Questions of human life. Yet the idea that politics and religion should be kept separate seems to be a controversial moral idea in its own right. For many religious believers, faith informs every aspect of their lives, including the political and social aspects. Hence the claim that their religious commitments are inappropriate sources of guidance in political matters strikes many religious citizens as deeply objectionable, perhaps even a violation of their right to free religious exercise. A central challenge for liberal democratic political theory, then, is to justify the separation of church and state (or religion and politics) to religious citizens in a way that does not rely upon controversial moral ideas. In Democratic Authority and the Separation of Church and State (Oxford University Press, 2011), Robert Audi proposes a novel and forceful account of the proper role of religious conviction in democratic politics. This account provides the basis for an attractive conception of the separation of church and state, and a compelling vision of civic virtue.