For the last several days I’ve been writing about religious beliefs and how they are tied to theory-making (see here, here, and here). In essence, my argument has been that (a) everyone has religious beliefs, (b) these beliefs form the basic presuppositions that shape our theory-making, and (c) since everyone’s theories are ultimately founded on religious beliefs, Christians (and other members of the Abrahamic faiths) shouldn’t be ashamed to proffer explicitly religious-based arguments.
A example of why this is an important concept, and how it is applied to law and public policy, is found in an article today on the Huffington Post. Geoffrey R. Stone, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, argues that the Catholic justices on the Supreme Court have allowed their faith to influence their decision-making on the issue of abortion. Stone finds that other factors, such as judicial philosophy and ideological leanings, cannot account for the pattern of votes on this issue and that religious faith appears to be the strongest correlating criterion.
Overall, I find his argument persuasive. It does appear that the religious beliefs of Catholic jurists shape how they decide on the legality of abortion. In fact, the only thing I find objectionable in his article is the presumption that such a move is illegitimate. Stone believes that their faith should have no influence on their decisions (a point sadly shared by many of these Catholic jurists).
In a follow-up exchange with Catholic legal theorist Rick Garnett, Stone makes it clear that the problem is not that individually held beliefs shape the decisions of these justices, but that religious beliefs are to be excluded from having such an influence:
I disagree with your post in the following way: I don’t believe it is illegitimate for judges to consider their policy beliefs in interpreting the Constitution (although I agree that should not be the touchstone for constitutional interpretation). But I do believe it is constitutionally illegitimate for judges to consider their religious beliefs in interpreting the Constitution. In my view, consideration of religious beliefs is on a par with consideration of partisan political beliefs. That is, it is (in my view) illegitimate for a judge to decide a case because the result will benefit the Democrats. Similarly, I believe it is illegitimate for a judge to decide a case because the result reflects his religious belief.
On the surface Stone’s answers appear to be incoherent or contradictory (what “policy beliefs” are not based on “partisan political beliefs”?). But what I think he means is that there are certain beliefs that are accessible to a majority, if not all people, through publically accessible reason. These are legitimate, while more narrow beliefs—based on such things as partisan politics and religion—are not because they are not (at least to him) publically accessible and held by a broad majority of citizens. This is a key premise in the argument for secular neutrality in law and public policy.
Unfortunately, many Christians have bought into this myth of secular neutrality, which requires that all that religious beliefs be checked before entering the public square. Ironically, the result is that certain religious beliefs (e.g., those that are reductionist and based on materialism) are welcomed while others (any religion that relies both on general and special revelation) are excluded.
However, even though such beliefs are openly excluded, they are still allowed to smuggle in the beliefs that the secular neutralists cannot derive from their own religious beliefs (e.g., atheists who are also materialists don’t have no basis for natural human rights, and so must borrow presuppositions from the theistic religions).
This is not to say that all religiously based arguments are legitimate or that they deserve preferential treatment in matters of law and public policy. However, to believe that religious beliefs should be excluded from the public square because they are religious is itself a belief rooted in a religious belief (i.e., a presumption of agnosticism). Why then do Christians cower and concede to those who make this argument when when it is based on neither reason nor reality?