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10 Journal of Law and Religion 1 (1994)


In addressing the role of religion in politics and law, American political theory has strongly embraced the principle of religious equality. In this article, I explain how this principle has evolved and how it has nourished the privatization of religion and the secularization of public discourse by generating the view that public evaluations of religion are inappropriate. Under this view, religion is a private good that lacks public significance. As matters merely of private taste, matters that cannot be evaluated publicly, religious positions on political issues are not to be "imposed" on other citizens.

I challenge this reading of the equality principle, contending that different religions and different religious arguments can and should be distinguished. I argue that some religious claims have more value than others in American political discourse and legal policymaking, and I propose various criteria by which competing religious traditions might be compared and contrasted. I discuss criteria that include the religion's method of determining truth, its basic stance toward the modern world, and its substantive positions on political and moral issues. Utilizing these and other criteria, I evaluate the role of religious fundamentalists, religious modernists, and a group I call "religious reconcilers." I question the value of fundamentalist and modernist contributions, but conclude that religious reconcilers can play a valuable role, potentially enriching our politics and our law.