Document Type

Article

Publication Date

December 2007

Volume

13

Issue

15

Abstract

American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2008-AbstractThis essay (6,000 words), which appeared in the Weekly Standard ostensibly as a comment on Mitt Romney's religion speech of December 2007, contains something to offend nearly everyone. It bluntly attacks presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and his evangelical followers for their demand for a Christian president, and calls them religious bigots.The essay also rejects, however, a central claim of Romney's religion speech, that all religious doctrines are beyond criticism or political argument - asserting that Romney, in the attempt to insulate himself from any questions of religion, has endorsed what might be called conservative multiculturalism and moral relativism. The essay argues that this is a disastrous move not just for American conservatives, but for American politics more generally, and urges that liberal toleration has to be understood not as a form of relativism putting religious doctrine beyond scrutiny but instead as a liberal suspension of public judgment on matters that one might well believe one entitled to judge in private. In effect, if the question is what parts of a candidate's religious beliefs are properly subject to public political scrutiny, Huckabee and his evangelical followers say all-in; Romney says, all-out. Neither of those can be considered the answer of liberal toleration. The essay then proposes, in its second half, three rough rules of thumb for determining whether a proposition of religion believed by a candidate for public office ought to be considered fairly open for political discussion.An enormously important reason why it matters that a liberal democracy get these answers right, the essay concludes, is that it matters today, in the world as it stands today, to be able to ask these questions of Islam, and of Muslim candidates. The answers to important questions - relations of church and state, apostasy, free expression, the status of women and gays, etc. - cannot simply be set aside. Either voters will not trust Muslim candidates and will simply refuse to elect them, because they are not allowed, under rules of multicultural political correctness (including Romney's conservative multiculturalism), to ask these questions - or we can put these questions properly on the table, while at the same time having liberal grounds for ignoring questions of doctrine having no substantial bearing on public policy. The former will save everyone's delicate feelings; only the latter, however, will provide the path for full participation in a democratic political community. (This essay is an unabashed, unapologetic jeremiad and it angered many readers when it first appeared.)

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