[lit-ideas] Re: Reason and Politics

  • From: Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 31 Oct 2006 20:39:46 -0400

Walter Okshevsky wrote:

"Xians don't view adherents to other "religions" as engaged in authentic
devotion to the one true God; they are as such irreligious or
anti-religious. Xians hence view non-believers as a threat to their one true
religion. Both of these Xian views comprise religious truths which Xians
claim a neutral democratic pluralist state has an obligation to respect and
not violate. That is what a right to freedom of religion entails."

Fortunately, this is not the case.  The right to freedom of religion does
not entail any positive obligations, so I do not have to respect any
religious belief or activity.  What the right to freedom of religion does
entail is the ability to make choices regarding religious beliefs (i.e. if I
have to hold a particular religious belief or cannot hold such a belief,
then there is a restriction on the right to freedom of religion) and the
duty to give reasons when those beliefs enter the public sphere.
Individuals can hold all sorts of religious beliefs, but the mere act of
holding such a belief says nothing about the role such a belief plays within
a liberal democracy.  As I said elsewhere, the right to freedom of religion
is not about religion but about peaceful social order.

Walter continues:

"The claim that the right to life can be trumped by a particular set of
beliefs is viewed by a liberal state as eminently rational and obligatory.
If you behave in certain ways, I have a right to take all means within my
powers to prevent you from so acting. Xians partially ground their claims on
this recognized conditional character of rights and freedoms."

There is no rational defence for trumping the right to life, but that is
another matter.  What the state has the right to do is constrain the
freedoms of individuals who reject the mutual rights and obligations
operative within a society.  The state cannot take natural rights, such as
the right to life, away from anyone.  They are inalienable.  The state can
constrain freedoms, as when people are incarcerated, and can revoke rights
that are given by legislation.  Since individuals cannot legislate rights,
they cannot revoke them.  And individuals certainly cannot trump natural
rights.  If any individual, or group of individuals, were to make such a
claim, they would be acting against the good of the state, and the liberal
democracy that constitutes it.  In short, for any group within a society to
claim the right to trump others' right to life is to necessarily reject
their own place within that society.


Phil Enns
Glen Haven, NS
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