Clifford Orwin discusses here how liberal democracy is officially neutral towards all ways of life. Each individual is free to put into practice whatever worldview he subscribes to. Justice Kennedy confirms this view in Casey v. Planned Parenthood when he says an individual is free to “define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe.”
Orwin goes on to say that Liberal Democracy doesn’t work like that in practice because it actually assumes a particular conception of the good: “For so long as you observe prevailing liberal democratic norms on all fundamental social questions, you’re free in merely secondary matters to continue in the ways of your ancestors.”
You can see the truth of this statement in the recent HHS ruling on birth control. Employer based health insurance must cover birth control and conscience exemptions from the rule are so narrow that it makes it practically impossible for religious believers to qualify. Religious liberty is downgraded to a secondary matter in favor of the prevailing liberal democratic norm of reproductive health.
How does the Liberal Democrat determine the right to birth control should trump right to religious liberty? Peter has written here in previous posts how supporters of Autonomy are willing to violate their own principle in the name of Health and Safety. Also, let us not forget Justice O’Connor argument from Casey about liberating women from their baby making bodies so they can help boost the GDP: “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” Autonomy and Productivity go hand in hand.
Orwin says what ends up happening for traditional religious believers in a liberal democracy is they have to settle for a watered down version of their practice e.g. Catholic Lite, Jewish Lite etc. With the General Election looming, we’ll soon see if Orwin’s depiction of democracy is correct.