No “reasonable accommodation” for religion!

equal-logoBaroness O’Neill, chair of the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, has recently given a speech, hosted by the Theos think tank, on freedom of expression and religion of religion. There is much that is good in the speech. In particular I agree wholeheartedly with her view that:

There is no way of securing freedom of expression if we also maintain that there is a right not to be offended. Speech acts that incite hatred, or that intimidate, or that defraud, or that abuse, can be regulated without putting freedom of expression at the mercy of others. But if there were a right not to be offended, this would put everyone’s freedom of expression at the mercy of others.

Baroness O’Neill counsels:

What then should one do if one hears, reads or sees something that one considers offensive, perhaps deeply offensive? The basic thing is to remember is that unless the offending speech act was wrong in some further way (e.g. it was defamatory, or incited hatred, or was fraudulent), no right has been violated, and no remedy of the sort that respect for rights requires is needed.

But, there is one major area where I want to argue that Baroness O’Neil is misguided. And this is the fundamental matter of what we mean by “freedom of religion”. The Baroness says that:

There are some who argue that provided we have rights both to freedom of expression and to freedom of association … then religion and belief and their expression will be adequately protected, and there will be no need for any further or specific right to freedom of religion and belief.

Baroness O'Neill

But she continues:

I am not going to spend time on this thought because it seems to me both unhelpful and potentially risky.

In contrast, I argue that interpreting “freedom of religion” as a part of the greater right to “freedom of expression” is necessary in order to uphold the even-greater principle of equality under the law.

In the grandfather of religious-freedom declarations, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Jefferson wrote:

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions … [and] …

… that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.

Note the “enlarge” as much as the “diminish”. The problem with the phrase “freedom of religion” is that it could be taken to imply that the religious have greater rights, and that their concerns and consciences must matter more than those of the non-religious, and so should be awarded privileged respect. We must dismiss that claim and insist on equality under the law.

Indeed, Baroness O’Neil herself says that:

Human rights are rights for everyone — for all human beings, not merely for some privileged or special ones. So no interpretation of rights can endorse supposed rights could be held only by some, but not by all: if rights are universal, it must be possible for others to hold like rights.

Calm equality

Seeing “freedom of religion” as a part of the wider “freedom of expression” that all of us have equally, makes the equal citizenship of everyone much clearer.

But, you might object, the phrase nowadays is “freedom of religion and belief”, where the “… and belief” is there precisely to grant equal status to the non-religious.

Well, yes, that is the fudge we have gotten ourselves into, but it is a fudge. There is no clear and coherent principle about which “beliefs” qualify for this freedom and which do not. Going down that path creates a mess, a mess that would be avoided if we simply, and rightfully, regarded religion as just one of the topics covered by freedom of expression.

Indeed, the Baroness recognises the mess:

There are various other difficulties — with current interpretations of the right to freedom of religion and belief, which centres on the meaning to be given to the term belief. The interpretation of this right by UK courts has generated confusion. On the one hand courts have held that “a belief must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information” but on the other they have held that any belief that is to be protected by this right should “attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance”.

She quotes a recent review of equality law that says that the:

… broad definition of “belief” currently being applied by the courts is unclear, and some rulings appear inconsistent with others.

She gives the example that:

It is puzzling to find opposition to fox hunting classified as a “religion or belief”, but support for fox hunting not classified as a “religion or belief”.

And then she concludes:

… this troubling ambiguity can only be made settled either by further legislation, or by the (probably slow) accumulation of further court decisions that do not point in contradictory directions.

That is rather feeble from someone tasked with leading the way on such matters (a conclusion also expressed on Archbishop Cranmer’s blog).

I suggest that there is no way to make the issue clear and consistent, and that the “troubling ambiguity” stems from the very idea of giving extra rights to religious opinions, and then trying to get back to equality by awarding them also to “beliefs”.

There is no coherent way of choosing which beliefs get any additional rights, nor any rationale for doing so. It would amount only to playing favourites. Yet, if all beliefs came to be included, the overall right would then have to revert back to “freedom of expression”, otherwise the doctrine would be utterly unworkable. If it didn’t you’d be giving some sort of nebulous and unspecified extra rights to any and all opinions.

For clarity and coherence, the far better solution is to subsume freedom of religion into freedom of expression. If one interprets “freedom of religion” as giving to religious opinion only those rights already granted by freedom of expression, and no more, then there is no need to decide which “beliefs” qualify for any additional rights.

The state really should not be in the business of deciding which beliefs are seriously held and important, nor in pronouncing on what is or is not “religious”. Nor, indeed, should we think that “religious” opinions matter more than non-religious opinions, so as to merit extra accommodation.

If we want to allow people the right to opt out of tasks owing to their conscience (for example, allowing a doctor to decline to perform an abortion) then the right should be available to all, regardless of religion and regardless of how they justify their request.

If we want to require that employers must make reasonable accommodations for employee requests, such as time out to pray or to smoke a cigarette, then the accommodation should be available to all employees, regardless of religion and regardless of how they justify their request.

If an employee wants to depart from a staff dress code — say to display a religious emblem or that of a football club — then the same latitude should be available to all regardless of religion and regardless of how they justify their request.

I fully support the right to additional accommodations for the disabled. But I entirely reject the notion that religious feeling matters more than non-religious feeling, and thus that “religious belief” gives entitlement to accommodation beyond that available to everyone.

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90 thoughts on “No “reasonable accommodation” for religion!

  1. Paul Braterman

    There is no good reason why religious beliefs should be protected in any other way than all strongly held viewpoints. The alternative, as you point out, is to grant special protection to some viewpoints precisely *because* they have no rational basis!

    When it comes to actions, there is again a principle that I would invoke that is not restricted to religion, namely, that it is wrong without very good reason to put pressure on any one to do anything that *that person*, however wrongheadedly in the view of others, considers wrong. Thus there should be vegetarian options in schools and other places of incarceration.

    Reply
  2. verbosestoic

    I counter with this: a secular society must have an independent right to freedom of religion that must allow for religious accommodation.

    First, we have to note that freedom of religion itself cannot be covered completely under freedom of expression, because while religion has an expression component the meat of it is in terms of actions, not expressing ideas. While many religions have conversions and proselytizing as major components, the key for religions is to have people act on their beliefs in a manner that they believe pleases God. Therefore, freedom of religion has to include them being able to do that, or else you are restricting it. For example, there is a difference between someone fasting due to a religious observance and someone fasting as a protest; the latter is clearly trying to express an idea, while the former generally isn’t.

    But maybe we don’t need freedom of religion. Taking on from Russell Blackford, a secular state is one where the state leaves the religious matters to the individual, and so has no opinion on them. In exchange, the secular state does not make laws for explicitly religious reasons. Thus, at the end of the day, secular states cannot take actions promoting or condemning any specific religious position; stances on religions are left up to the individuals, and the state doesn’t take sides. This, then, includes atheists, as their stance on religion is indeed a stance on religion and so the state cannot take sides against them, or for them. The state, then, has to stay out of religious positions.

    But given that religion includes actions, this means that the state cannot restrict religious PRACTICE, directly or indirectly, because then it would be getting into religious positions. If the state makes certain religious practices illegal — even if unintentionally — they are restricting the ability of the people to pursue their own religious views and positions, and therefore to practice their own religion. That’s the state taking sides, even if unintentionally. Thus, exceptions for religious practices are required, or else the state ends up essentially telling people what religious positions they can or cannot adopt, which breaks the deal. Now, sometimes other rights trump that, but at least SOME religious accommodation seems required.

    So, what about other philosophies? Maybe we just need a generic right protecting all of them. Well, the problem is that the state CAN promote or discourage specific philosophical positions and the actions based on them. We expect a state to promote equality, for example, or restrict certain actions based on certain views if they think they are detrimental to society. There is therefore NO reason for the state to not promote or discourage certain philosophical positions, and therefore no one has the right to exemptions from the law based on their own philosophical positions.

    If the state tries to do the same thing for religion, it stops being a secular state, and instead ends up promoting a particular stance on religion … even if that stance is atheistic. So since we know that a secular state ought not promote or discourage any particular stance, we need a right to freedom of religion; that right is separate from the right to freedom of expression because religion critically involves action, not just expression; and as religion critically involves action any state limitations on those actions risk the state promoting or discouraging particular religious stances. Thus, we need reasonable accommodation to ensure that the secular state stays appropriate out of religious matters, as it promises.

    Reply
    1. Paul Braterman

      ” If the state makes certain religious practices illegal — even if unintentionally — they are restricting the ability of the people to pursue their own religious views and positions, and therefore to practice their own religion. That’s the state taking sides, even if unintentionally.” Careful here; my religion forbids me to pay income tax, while some people’s religious views enjoin them to kill people who disagree with them. (My first example is facetious; events in Bangladesh remind us that the second, while having died out a few centuries ago in the West, is still alive and well elsewhere.)

    2. verbosestoic

      Remember that the right to freedom of religion would itself be, well, a right, which means that when it clashes with other rights we have to decide how to handle that clash. It’s pretty obvious that killing people who disagree with your religious beliefs would violate their right to religious freedom AND to life, and so wouldn’t be accommodated. As for taxes, this is more complicated, but it would be reasonable to say that if there was a legitimate religious objection you might not have to pay taxes … but then couldn’t call on government services either.

      (Note, that last part doesn’t really say anything about cases of exempting religious organizations from taxes, as that seems to follow from a secular state, not freedom of religion per se, at least by common argument).

    3. verbosestoic

      I treat it as a right, and argue that it gives no more privilege than any other right does. Feel free to point out how it does give more privilege, or otherwise why we ought not have a right to religious freedom.

    4. Coel Post author

      You are giving more privilege to the religious as follows. Suppose someone says:

      “I am religious, my religion requires that I do Act A, but I note that your rule hampers me doing Act A, please can you accommodate my request?”

      And someone else says:

      “I am not religious, my personal preference would be to do Act B, but I note that your rule hampers me doing Act B, please can you accommodate my request?”

      Your doctrine says that you need to give greater allowance in the first case than in the latter. That makes the first person a first-class citizen who has extra privileges, and whose requests count for more, whereas the second person is a second-class citizen whose requests can be ignored.

      To me, the doctrine of secularism is that the religious content of Act A is entirely irrelevant to whether the state should accommodate the act. The state should decide the matter without taking any interest in whether the act has religious aspects.

    5. verbosestoic

      So the question would be: why do we accommodate Person A and not Person B? And the answer is that if we don’t accommodate Person A, we are effectively making their religious practice illegal and stopping them from acting on their religious beliefs, while if we don’t accommodate Person B all we do is stop them from acting on a personal preference, which is the purpose of, well, all laws ever. Thus, if we agree that a secular state ought not make religious practices illegal, we have good reason to accommodate Person A that is not relevant for Person B IN THIS CASE. Therefore, we are not privileging Person A, and Person B’s complaint that we are is an unreasonable complaint, and an attempt to deny Person A their actual rights.

    6. Paul Braterman

      I think we can make this two-way street, using faith-neutral language.

      It is wrong, without some overriding reason, to compel a person to do something that they regard as morally wrong, or prevent them from doing something that they regard as a moral obligation, whether or not you agree with them on this.

      Thus there is a clear difference between someone unwilling to take an exam on Saturday because that is Sabbath breaking, and someone unwilling to take it because they want to go to a football match.

      It is also wrong for the religious to compel a nonbeliever to pray if, as will usually be the case, the nonbeliever regards it as morally wrong to pray without belief.

      This does not distinguish between religious and other moral convictions. As for what is a “reasonable accommodation”, there is no way of avoiding having to decide this on a case-by-case basis.

    7. Coel Post author

      Hi Paul,

      Thus there is a clear difference between someone unwilling to take an exam on Saturday because that is Sabbath breaking, and someone unwilling to take it because they want to go to a football match.

      I’m not sure I agree with that. Such a doctrine requires that the state enquire into a person’s morals and evaluate how seriously they hold them and what degree of moral-wrongness that attach to them. I think that would inevitably be highly subjective and that it would be better for the state to just stay out of it.

      Thus, I’d say that if we accept a right of someone to ask for a different day for an exam, then that right should be available to all, without them needing to justify their request. If, though, we don’t want to exempt people for what we regard as trivial reasons, then we should not exempt anyone.

      Suppose someone were unwilling to sit an exam because:
      (1) other candidates in the room are women,
      (2) it’s scheduled in Ramadam,
      (3) it’s scheduled on Friday 13th.
      (4) … et cetera …

      My stance would be to just make one rule for everyone about choice (or otherwise) of days, and leave it at that.

    8. Paul Braterman

      The free-for-all that you suggest would place a large burden on the employer (or, in my example, the examining body). It would be easy for the employer to ask for evidence (eg a minister’s letter) of religious practice, and reasonable to accept that as evidence of religious conviction. I’m not sure how to ensure someone wasn’t lying about their morals; this could be a real problem in times of military conscription. The state would only be involved if the matter went to court, or if it *was* the employer.

      To ask for an accommodation to avoid Saturday seems to me reasonable. At Oxford, people requesting such an accommodation are held incommunicado until the Sabbath is over, and then sit the exam. I don’t know how Oxford reacts to requests based on non-religious motives.

      Ramadan, however, cannot be reasonably accommodated because that lasts a month. AFAIK, Muslims don’t ask for any such accommodation. Objections to women (or, in the case of female candidates, men) in the room; difficult to see how this would arise with candidates who attended non-segregated lectures. Fringe beliefs, such as triskaedekaphobia; a judgment call, but there will always be judgment calls at the boundaries of legislation; should Jaffa Cakes have to pay VAT?

    9. Coel Post author

      The free-for-all that you suggest would place a large burden on the employer …

      I’m not necessarily suggesting a free-for-all; for example the one-rule-for-all idea could mean “no exemptions at all” (or only on medical grounds). As a fundamental principle, I dislike the idea that participants in an organised religion (who can supply a minister’s letter) would find it easier to obtain indulgence than others.

      On pragmatic grounds the easiest course might be to indulge and accommodate requests if that’s sufficiently easy to do, but I don’t think that should be elevated to a right.

    10. Coel Post author

      And the answer is that if we don’t accommodate Person A, we are effectively making their religious practice illegal and stopping them from acting on their religious beliefs …

      Yes, exactly, and that’s exactly what we do with, say, a religious desire to sacrifice a virgin at full moon, or to cut off their daughter’s genitalia. There is no general right of “I can do this act because it’s my religion”. Religious freedom has never been held to say that!

      [Or, rather, religious freedom had historically *not* been held to say that. The relatively recent US “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” does say that, but that is a new doctrine, extending religious privilege. I argue that here and here.

      As I see it, the state can regulate acts for good secular reasons. If “Act A” is generally allowed, then the state cannot prohibit “Act A with religious content”. So if meeting up with a secular choir once a week is allowed, then meeting up at a church service should also be allowed. That’s essentially what “religious freedom” means — the religious content of an act cannot be the reason to disallow it.

      But religious freedom does *not* mean that you can do Act A if and only if it has religious content, but not otherwise. Your stance blatantly gives special privilege and greater indulgence to the religious, which violates equality under the law.

      Thus, if we agree that a secular state ought not make religious practices illegal …

      But I don’t agree that! FGM should be illegal. The principle is that the secular state must not have a religious or an anti-religious motivation for making a practice illegal, but it can make a practice illegal for good and proper secular reasons, regardless of whether any religion requires such practices.

      Therefore, we are not privileging Person A

      Of course you are! Person A can do Act A because they claim it’s mandated by their religion. Non-religious Person B cannot do Act A. Therefore Person A is privileged.

      … and an attempt to deny Person A their actual rights.

      I do not agree that “religious freedom” grants Person A any rights beyond those already granted by freedoms of speech and association.

    11. verbosestoic

      Yes, exactly, and that’s exactly what we do with, say, a religious desire to sacrifice a virgin at full moon, or to cut off their daughter’s genitalia.

      I covered this already. Freedom of religion is a right … and sometimes rights clash. When rights clash, we have to decide how to resolve the clash. In the two cases you cite here, there is a clash of rights, with the right to freedom of religion clashing with the right to life in the former case and the right to bodily integrity in the latter, and there is no way to accommodate the religious belief in a way that doesn’t still clash with those rights. Given that, and given the importance of the rights it is clashing with, it is perfectly reasonable to say that, in those specific instances, the right to freedom of religion loses out. That might not be the case for all cases, however.

      So, let me ask you this: name a “good secular reason” for a law that restricts a religious practice that you would support that doesn’t involve a clash with another right. If you can’t, then we’re actually on the same page, here, and then you need to justify the restrictions when another right ISN’T involved. If you can, then we need to look at why you think your good secular reason allows you to effectively make a religion illegal, in that it makes it so that anyone who is actually a member of that religion who follows its practices is forced to commit an illegal act.

      [Or, rather, religious freedom had historically *not* been held to say that. The relatively recent US “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” does say that, but that is a new doctrine, extending religious privilege.

      In Canada, it HAS been interpreted that way, which is why Canada definitely accommodates religion in these cases. So we need to examine it, dare I say, philosophically instead of relying on laws and the like.

    12. Coel Post author

      I covered this already. Freedom of religion is a right …

      You say that as though it’s generally agreed. Yet many people (including me) do not accept that “freedom of religion” entails anything not already granted by freedom of speech.

      So, let me ask you this: name a “good secular reason” for a law that restricts a religious practice that you would support that doesn’t involve a clash with another right.

      The only reason we pass secular laws is for the benefit of other people. A “good secular reason” has to mean the avoidance of disadvantage to others. So, yes, we should only restrict religion (or anything else for that matter) if it is necessary to do so to protect the interests of others.

      If you can’t, then we’re actually on the same page …

      Not quite. Your stance is that if there is a clash between a religiously desired act, and the secular interests of others, then we need to balance the two against each other and make reasonable accommodation. This would involve some concessions from the secular point of view.

      My stance is that the religious consideration is zero-weighted. We simply agree — on a secular basis — what rules and accommodations should apply to everyone, and the religious aspects are ignored.

    13. verbosestoic

      You say that as though it’s generally agreed.

      I presumed that you’d be able to attach the “in my view” to that, especially considering that in many, many places freedom of religion is indeed considered its own separate right. At any rate, that’s all completely irrelevant to my point there, which was that as a right it can clash with other rights, at which point we have to consider who to resolve the clash, which then covers the examples you’ve given, which then explains why my view does not have any problem with those things being illegal, as I’ve already explained multiple times.

      The only reason we pass secular laws is for the benefit of other people. A “good secular reason” has to mean the avoidance of disadvantage to others. So, yes, we should only restrict religion (or anything else for that matter) if it is necessary to do so to protect the interests of others.

      “Interests” and “rights” aren’t the same thing. We restrict interests all the time. We are always leery about restricting things that are required to fulfill someone’s rights. Again, think abortion.

      Not quite. Your stance is that if there is a clash between a religiously desired act, and the secular interests of others, then we need to balance the two against each other and make reasonable accommodation. This would involve some concessions from the secular point of view.

      This suggests that you can’t think of a case where you would restrict religious practice except in a case where it clashes with the rights of others, or else we’re no where NEAR being on the same page. But if that is the case, then the only difference we can be having is over what to do in the cases where the actual RIGHTS of others are not impacted. And I’d certainly stand on a position that if no one’s rights are being violated if we grant the religious an exception or where we compromise so as to limit the burden we place on practicing a specific religion, we really, really ought to compromise so as to at least not unduly burden a specific religion.

      My stance is that the religious consideration is zero-weighted. We simply agree — on a secular basis — what rules and accommodations should apply to everyone, and the religious aspects are ignored.

      Which means that any religion who has practices outside the norm gets outlawed. This does not seem to in any way be the secular state staying out of otherworldly matters, if it can blythely outlaw religions that don’t meet its current criteria, even if unintentionally.

    14. Coel Post author

      … in many, many places freedom of religion is indeed considered its own separate right.

      True, but what that actually means is widely debated. The reason “freedom of religion” is generally specified separately from a general right to speak is that it was one of the earliest rights. “Freedom of religion” was advocated before one had a general right to criticise the King or the government. This *later* developed into a general right of free speech.

      … that’s all completely irrelevant to my point there, which was that as a right it can clash with other rights, at which point we have to consider who to resolve the clash, …

      Yet your stance gives no guidance on how this clash is resolved and how much extra privilege the religious get.

      “Interests” and “rights” aren’t the same thing. We restrict interests all the time. We are always leery about restricting things that are required to fulfill someone’s rights.

      “Rights” are just society-wide agreements. Effectively someone’s legitimate “interests” and their “rights” are much the same.

      This suggests that you can’t think of a case where you would restrict religious practice except in a case where it clashes with the rights of others …

      Yes. That’s exactly what I said (I’ll reword my passage using “interests” instead of “rights” if you prefer).

      Which means that any religion who has practices outside the norm gets outlawed.

      Yes, if those practices are against rules which are there for good secular reasons. Thus, a religion that mandates FGM get effectively outlawed. I’m 100% comfortable with that.

      This does not seem to in any way be the secular state staying out of otherworldly matters, if it can blythely outlaw religions that don’t meet its current criteria, …

      The secular state making rules for good secular reasons — totally regardless of whether that effectively outlaws a religion — is indeed “staying out of otherworldly matters”.

    15. verbosestoic

      Yet your stance gives no guidance on how this clash is resolved and how much extra privilege the religious get.

      Except, as I pointed out before, it very much does. If the right clashes with the rights of others, settle it the way you settle all other rights clashes. Beyond that, choose the way that satisfies the religious requirement with the least impact on people outside of that religion. This seems pretty simple to me, even though in practice deciding this may not be easy … but, then, that’s pretty much standard for the law [grin].

      “Rights” are just society-wide agreements. Effectively someone’s legitimate “interests” and their “rights” are much the same.

      Both legally and philosophically, they are considered to be different, so using interests instead of rights is DEFINITELY going to be confusing [grin].

      Yes. That’s exactly what I said (I’ll reword my passage using “interests” instead of “rights” if you prefer).

      So, between the last two comments, it appears that you agree with at least some limited religious accommodation — at least in cases where exempting the religion from the law won’t impact the secular reason the law was enacted — and we agree that the rights of others generally trumps the religious accommodation, so that you generally will not allow a religious accommodation that violates the rights of others. So it seems like we’re getting down to specific cases here, and the only two big cases I can see as maybe still being disagreements are:

      1) Cases where someone saying “That violates my religion” would be taken more seriously and have to be respected where “I have a personal preference” wouldn’t be (I think, given the secular state that we agree on already, that a religious reason definitely has to have more protection than a simple preference, but you may disagree).

      2) Cases where I think the right to freedom of religion MIGHT trump another right (I see it as a clash of rights and you don’t seem to).

      We’d need to get into specific, good thought experiments for each of these, so if you do disagree here some cases where you’d find it unacceptable would be nice.

    16. Coel Post author

      it appears that you agree with at least some limited religious accommodation — at least in cases where exempting the religion from the law won’t impact the secular reason the law was enacted

      No, I don’t accept *any* religious accommodation. What I do accept is the general point that laws should be there for good secular purposes (to protect the interests of others) and that they should not restrict activity beyond that (religious or not).

      I think, given the secular state that we agree on already, that a religious reason definitely has to have more protection than a simple preference, but you may disagree.

      Correct, I disagree. Your stance buys into the idea that religious opinions matter more than other opinions. I don’t accept that.

    17. verbosestoic

      No, I don’t accept *any* religious accommodation.

      I think that the Internet is getting to you, because you seem to be protesting this too much considering the context I’ve been talking in, almost as if you’re afraid that I was going to use that to say “See, you already accept everything!”. Well, okay, I kinda did, but in a specific way. Specifically, my point here was that you do accept some of the accommodations that are granted to religion now. You just don’t think that they’re justified under any sort of specific right to freedom of religion. Thus, that’s the heart of the matter, as I said.

      Correct, I disagree. Your stance buys into the idea that religious opinions matter more than other opinions. I don’t accept that.

      Well, in one sense I agree that religious opinions “matter more”, in that I think that a secular state has a stronger burden to stay out of religious matters than it does out of other matters. But I do that by appealing mainly to the part of it that you DO accept, namely that a secular state can’t promote or discourage religious belief. I argue that they CAN do that for secular positions, and in fact argue that as a secular state they are OBLIGATED to do so. This then means that a secular state definitely has to be more cautious about infringing on religious views than on secular views. If you disagree, then I’d need to see an argument for that, specifically, because so far the argument you’ve relied on the most here is one that I’ve addressed with my abortion example, and you haven’t followed up on that example to show me why my view actually does treat the non-religious as second class citizens.

    18. Coel Post author

      Specifically, my point here was that you do accept some of the accommodations that are granted to religion now.

      Only those that are already entailed by other rights that are available to everyone, such as freedom of speech and association.

      … a secular state has a stronger burden to stay out of religious matters than it does out of other matters. But I do that by appealing mainly to the part of it that you DO accept, namely that a secular state can’t promote or discourage religious belief.

      The state certainly has a duty to stay out of religious ideas and opinions and theology. But it can still regulate any and all *acts*, provided it is doing so for secular reasons. Thus, when regulating *acts* the state should take no account of any religious dimension. That means that it should not grant any extra accommodation to religion.

      … you haven’t followed up on that example to show me why my view actually does treat the non-religious as second class citizens.

      (R) I cannot do that on a Friday because it is my holy day.
      (State) Oh, I do beg your pardon, would Thursday suit you instead?

      (non-R) I cannot do that on a Friday because I play football that day.
      (State) Tough, you’ll have to miss it.

      (R) I need to wear a veil during my court appearance, as demanded by my religion.
      (State) In that case we’ll do everything we can to accommodate you, though we can’t guarantee that you will never have to take it off.

      (non-R) I need to wear a balaclava during my court appearance, because I feel happier that way.
      (State) Tough, take it off.

      (R) I can’t wear a helmet when riding my motorbike. My religion requires a turban.
      (State) OK, well we’ll allow you an exemption from that law.

      (non-R) May I also wear a turban instead of a helmet?
      (State) Nope, don’t be silly, that exemption is only for Sikhs.

      (R-prisoner) I need to be let out of cells five time a day to pray.
      (State) Why, of course, no problem, we should indeed accommodate your religion.

      (non-R-prisoner) I also would enjoy extra time out of cells, can I also go out five times a day?
      (State) No, stop being a nuisance.

      (R-prisoner) I need you to feed me Halal meat, owing to my religion.
      (State) Yes, ok.

      (non-R-prisoner) That food they’re getting looks better; may I also have some?
      (State) No you may not.

      All of the above are real-world examples of current practice in the UK.

    19. verbosestoic

      All of the above are real-world examples of current practice in the UK.

      Yes, and what’s wrong with them, given my view? How does this make you a second class citizen?

      Let’s take the turban case. Depending on how you look at it, I’m either a Catholic or non-religious. There is a similar law about bike helmets in my province. I BELIEVE that the Sikh turban exemption is in place (I know they were advocating for it). By your reasoning, I, even as a Catholic, am a second class citizen by that interpretation. Yet my argument is that I’m not. Sure, I have to wear a bike helmet, but that’s because there is no conflict between my religious practices and the law. In short, I don’t get that exemption because I don’t NEED that exemption; my religious practices are perfectly compatible with it. The same thing would apply to the non-religious: they never get religious exemptions to laws, but that’s only because they never NEED them, having no religious practices that can clash with the law.

      That was the point of the abortion example that you keep ignoring. As a man, it doesn’t make me a second class citizen that women can get abortions, because the only reason for that distinction is because I never NEED an abortion. So I’m not a second class citizen because I’m never going to need something they have a right to. If I ever needed one, I’d have the right to it, but I almost certainly never will, so I won’t. The same thing applies here: if the non-religious needed it, they’d get it, but since they don’t, they won’t.

      At the end of the day, your argument boils down to you being annoyed that people can do things that you can’t. But I think that making religious practices illegal is bad enough that we need to justify exemptions and have that be a right. As I’ve already said, when it clashes with rights we need to resolve the issue, so it’s not absolute, but none of your examples here are cases of that, in my opinion, and so ought to be allowed.

    20. Coel Post author

      How does this make you a second class citizen?

      In such cases the religious person gets additional rights to do something. That’s what’s wrong with such rules, that’s what makes the religious a superior class of citizen.

      In short, I don’t get that exemption because I don’t NEED that exemption

      Which doesn’t change the fact that the Sikh gets preferential treatment. They have two choices of head gear when riding a bike, non-Sikhs have only one.

      In short, I don’t get that exemption because I don’t NEED that exemption.

      I reject the idea that anyone “needs” a religious exemption because I reject the idea that anyone “needs” to follow a religion. They could choose not to. It’s their lifestyle choice. I reject the idea that they should get extra privileges and exemptions owing to such a lifestyle choice.

      As a man, it doesn’t make me a second class citizen that women can get abortions, …

      The fact that men don’t get pregnant is not a lifestyle choice in the same way that adopting a religion is. Thus I don’t accept the comparison.

      If being religious were a matter of biology, and thus a genuine matter of “need”, then I’d fully accept the state granting them exemptions. For example, I’m ok with the state giving special help to the disabled.

    21. verbosestoic

      It’s their lifestyle choice. I reject the idea that they should get extra privileges and exemptions owing to such a lifestyle choice.

      First, if you hold this, then you cannot appeal to historical understandings of religious freedom, because all of them start from the premise that religion is NOT merely a lifestyle choice. So your appeal to Jefferson, for example, doesn’t work because your view CANNOT follow from what he said unless you accept the starting point.

      Second, you had best not use the “second-class citizens” argument, because that argument is justified only if religion just IS a lifestyle choice, and not a protected right or any kind of special circumstance. If it isn’t, then you’re right that it would be treating others as second-class citizens … but that’s not what, well, pretty much ANYONE you’re arguing with is saying. If it is a right, then it isn’t treating them as second-class citizens. Thus, we need to settle whether this is a right or if there is a special relationship, and if we do then the second-class citizen argument is pretty much settled.

      You can’t argue that I can’t consider religious freedom a right, for example, because it would make the non-religious second-class citizens, because if I’m right that it is a right then it won’t in any meaningful way, and if I’m wrong them I’m WRONG, and so the argument is irrelevant at that point.

      3) In past comments, you seem to have accepted the idea that the state cannot explicitly make a religion illegal. You’ve certainly accepted the idea that the state must remain neutral on religious positions. But if religion is just a lifestyle choice — or, to be more accurate, a philosophical position — I wonder how you can maintain that position. After all, as I’ve commented before, the state is not only free to discourage or encourage certain philosophical positions, but also to directly impose laws on them when they feel the need. For example, states are perfectly free to discourage racist and sexist philosophies, for example. And a democratic state can certainly discourage communist philosophies. We can also encourage healthy lifestyles, and even enact laws directly intended to promote people adopting them and stop adopting unhealthy lifestyles (limiting trans fats and drink sizes, for example). So if religion is to be considered no differently than any of those things, how do you justify the idea of state neutrality towards religion at all?

    22. Coel Post author

      First, if you hold this, then you cannot appeal to historical understandings of religious freedom, because all of them start from the premise that religion is NOT merely a lifestyle choice.

      I think that my view is pretty much in line with the traditional view, but that more recently some people have moved to the idea that “religious freedom” grants extra rights. I argue that more fully here: Christians don’t understand religious freedom.

      If it is a right, then it isn’t treating them as second-class citizens.

      Except that my argument is that if religious people do have this extra “right”, then that does make the rest of us second-class citizens. Why should religious opinions be privileged over philosophical ones, or mere whims?

      In past comments, you seem to have accepted the idea that the state cannot explicitly make a religion illegal.

      Agreed. The state cannot act with religious or anti-religious motive. Thus it cannot desire to make a religion illegal. It can, though, desire to make certain acts illegal, regardless of whether that incidently makes a religion illegal (cf. FGM).

      So if religion is to be considered no differently than any of those things, how do you justify the idea of state neutrality towards religion at all?

      Because, while we’re happy for the state to counter racism, sexism, and other matters, religion is one of those areas that we have collectively agreed would be best for the government to stay out of (at least, those nations with church–state separation have!). Thus government neutrality on such issues is a collective agreement made with the intention of best achieving a harmonious society.

    23. verbosestoic

      I think that my view is pretty much in line with the traditional view, but that more recently some people have moved to the idea that “religious freedom” grants extra rights. I argue that more fully here: Christians don’t understand religious freedom.

      I’ve read it, but you miss the point here. The point is that all historical treatments treat religion as something that the state has a special relationship with — neutrality is actually only American, for the most part — and not as another lifestyle choice like any other. They’ve also always treated freedom of religion as a separate, distinct and specific right. If your view depends on religion being treated like everything else and freedom of religion not being its own distinct right, your view diverges from them radically and cannot be used to justify at least the parts of your view that rely on this interpretation.

      Except that my argument is that if religious people do have this extra “right”, then that does make the rest of us second-class citizens. Why should religious opinions be privileged over philosophical ones, or mere whims?

      You already privilege SECULAR opinions in that you allow government officials to express them but forbid them to do so for religious ones. The avalanche has already started; it is too late for the pebbles to vote.

      Agreed. The state cannot act with religious or anti-religious motive. Thus it cannot desire to make a religion illegal. It can, though, desire to make certain acts illegal, regardless of whether that incidently makes a religion illegal (cf. FGM).

      You need to stop using FGM as an example because MY conception — that also allows for the accommodations that you say are invalid under your conception — ALSO allows the government to restrict that (ie you can restrict religious accommodation when allowing the accommodation clashes with the rights of others). So that’s not the debate. I also seem to recall that you were at least somewhat sympathetic to the idea that if the purpose of the law didn’t apply to the religious practice, that then accommodating them by exempting them from the law would make sense as well. If not, we can re-open that discussion. But it seems to me that our real argument is over the borderline cases, where in theory the law applies to their usage but it greatly impacts their religious practices, but the accommodation does not, at least, DIRECTLY violate the rights of others. I say in order for the government to remain neutral, it has to allow the accommodation, because even INADVERTENTLY doing that means effectively making a religion illegal, and the state is NOT supposed to do that.

      I could agree with you that the state cannot make a religion or religious practice illegal without VERY good secular reason (not merely A secular reason). Then we’d just be arguing over what good reason we have.

      Thus government neutrality on such issues is a collective agreement made with the intention of best achieving a harmonious society.

      How does this differ from saying that we have a right to religious freedom? What is a right, to you, if not that?

    24. Coel Post author

      … all historical treatments treat religion as something that the state has a special relationship with — neutrality is actually only American, for the most part — and not as another lifestyle choice like any other.

      That’s true, in the sense that historically most nations have not had church–state separation, and have had a state which promoted a particular religion (though it may have tolerated minority religions). In saying that I consider my view to be in line with the historical view, I meant the historical view of those arguing for church-state separation.

      You already privilege SECULAR opinions in that you allow government officials to express them but forbid them to do so for religious ones.

      Yes, sort of, though it doesn’t really privilege the “opinion”. You are right, though, that church-state separation gives the state licence in secular areas but not in religious ones.

      I also seem to recall that you were at least somewhat sympathetic to the idea that if the purpose of the law didn’t apply to the religious practice, that then accommodating them by exempting them from the law would make sense as well.

      Yes, if there is no secular purpose in imposing a law in a particular situation then the state should not impose the law. We should not have rules for rules’ sake. But that applies equally to secular people wanting a law not to apply.

      I say in order for the government to remain neutral, it has to allow the accommodation, because even INADVERTENTLY doing that means effectively making a religion illegal, and the state is NOT supposed to do that.

      I don’t agree with that! I do not agree that the state need take any notice whatsoever of whether a religion is made illegal, if the state is acting for good secular reasons.

      How does this differ from saying that we have a right to religious freedom?

      It differs because we are not agreed on the basics of what “a right to religious freedom” entails! You want it to grant more rights than I want it to.

    25. verbosestoic

      It differs because we are not agreed on the basics of what “a right to religious freedom” entails! You want it to grant more rights than I want it to.

      But that we disagree on what a right to freedom of religion entails doesn’t mean that we don’t agree that there is a right to freedom of religion, any more than if we disagreed over whether the state can restrict hate speech without violating the right to freedom of speech it would mean that we don’t agree that there’s a right to freedom of speech. And this is important, because you were claiming that there was NO NEED for a separate and specific right to freedom of religion because everything we needed for that was covered under other rights. Well, the case here — state officials not being able to promote their religious views — is in fact an exception, because the relevant right — freedom of speech — doesn’t allow for it, and if you want to oppose that with anything, it has to be a right, because rights trump all else. So the only way the statement could be true is if …

      In saying that I consider my view to be in line with the historical view, I meant the historical view of those arguing for church-state separation.

      You’re trying to argue that what we’re talking about it church-state separation, not freedom of religion per se. The problem with that is that historically church-state separation has been JUSTIFIED by appealing to the right to freedom of religion, and the states that have official state religions have argued that it doesn’t violate that right as long as they have a good reason for implementing it and don’t impede the religious practices of those who are members of other religions. Without freedom of religion, you don’t get to church-state separation, at least using the historical model.

      Why is this important? Because it’s vital to clarify that you DO need a separate and specific right to freedom of religion for you to get the behaviours that you’re advocating for, and so it then is clear that we have a separate and specific right to freedom of religion, and that what we need it to get even to what YOU want. Thus, religion and the state have a distinct relationship that is different from other lifestyle choices, and we just have to settle what that should be. Thus, we can clear away a lot of the rhetorical underbrush to get at the heart of the matter if you accept this.

      Yes, sort of, though it doesn’t really privilege the “opinion”.

      If a state official can express a secular opinion but not a religious one, it privileges secular opinions over religious ones, just as much as your examples of religious accommodation privilege religious actions. Why we don’t care in your case is because a right demands that privileging, and I argue that the right demands the same privileging in the religious accommodation cases. We just disagree on what the right demands.

      Yes, if there is no secular purpose in imposing a law in a particular situation then the state should not impose the law. We should not have rules for rules’ sake. But that applies equally to secular people wanting a law not to apply.

      But it seems reasonable that even if a law does not apply to a specific case for someone, the stay can refuse to give them an exemption on various grounds. But given that we have a right to freedom of religion, and a right for the state to say out of our religious practices, it seems to definitely be the case that if they make a law for secular reasons, it makes a specific religious practice illegal, and exempting that religious practice from the law will in no way impact whether that secular purpose is fulfilled, that the religious practice should be exempt? Do you at least agree with religious accommodation in THOSE cases, whether or not you think it follows from the right to freedom of religion?

      I don’t agree with that!

      I KNOW you don’t agree with that! I still want you to give me good REASONS why you think that effectively making a religious practice illegal DOESN’T violate the right to freedom of religion. That it’s done inadvertently doesn’t seem to help matters here.

      As I pointed out (and you seem to have ignored):

      I could agree with you that the state cannot make a religion or religious practice illegal without VERY good secular reason (not merely A secular reason). Then we’d just be arguing over what good reason we have.

      So is this where we are on this topic, now … arguing over how strong the reason has to be? Or, for example, do you think that if a state makes a law to curb jaywalking that happens to make a religious practice illegal (not jaywalking itself) that that is sufficient secular reason to effectively make a religion illegal?

    26. Coel Post author

      Well, the case here — state officials not being able to promote their religious views — is in fact an exception, because the relevant right — freedom of speech — doesn’t allow for it, …

      People acting with state authority are indeed far more constrained in their speech than citizens. Essentially the *government* does not have free speech (the citizens do).

      Because it’s vital to clarify that you DO need a separate and specific right to freedom of religion for you to get the behaviours that you’re advocating for …

      No, I can simply declare government neutrality on religion and church-state separation as my starting points, along with freedom of expression.

      If a state official can express a secular opinion but not a religious one, it privileges secular opinions over religious ones, …

      “Opinions” are not people; “opinions” don’t have rights. People have rights. You are entirely right that someone acting as a state agent is more restricted in many ways than they are when acting as a normal citizen. Authority figures usually have a much greater burden to be fair and impartial.

      exempting that religious practice from the law will in no way impact whether that secular purpose is fulfilled, that the religious practice should be exempt? Do you at least agree with religious accommodation in THOSE cases …

      Yes, but only to the extent that I’d accept the same for requests for secular exemptions. As a general principle, the government should not make rules restricting people for no good reason.

      I still want you to give me good REASONS why you think that effectively making a religious practice illegal DOESN’T violate the right to freedom of religion.

      Because, as I see it, freedom of religion is a part of a more general freedom of expression, and applies to speech but not to *acts*. The government can restrict acts for good secular reasons.

      So is this where we are on this topic, now … arguing over how strong the reason has to be? Or, for example, do you think that if a state makes a law to curb jaywalking that happens to make a religious practice illegal (not jaywalking itself) that that is sufficient secular reason to effectively make a religion illegal?

      My threshold is this: if the secular reason for the law is good enough to impose it on secular people, then it is good enough to impose it on religious people (regardless of whether that inadvertently makes their religious practice illegal). If the secular reason is insufficient, such that you’d agree to exempt religious people, then you should also exempt any secular people who ask.

    27. verbosestoic

      People acting with state authority are indeed far more constrained in their speech than citizens. Essentially the *government* does not have free speech (the citizens do).

      You’ve already stated that similar secular views could be expressed by government officials, and thus this doesn’t hold. You cannot use the right to freedom of expression to separate secular philosophical views from religious philosophical views; to do that, you need some kind of religious specific right.

      No, I can simply declare government neutrality on religion and church-state separation as my starting points, along with freedom of expression.

      It would have been best here if you hadn’t simply tossed out a reply that I anticipated: historically, that starting point has been justified by a right to freedom of religion. If you deny a right to freedom of religion, then you have to have something that is specifically religious and has the power of a right — so that it can trump freedom of expression — so even that starting point becomes a de facto religious right. Then, as I said, all we are arguing about is over what that covers.

      If you disagree with that analysis, you need to explain how you can start from there and how you can justify that in order to separate secular from religious speech in order to get the effects that you want. If you DO agree, then we can focus on the details of what that has to entail.

      “Opinions” are not people; “opinions” don’t have rights. People have rights.

      And since freedom of expression is about expressing opinions, we don’t have that either, as opinions don’t have rights. This is … a rather irrelevant riposte.

      Essentially, you privilege secular citizens over religious ones because they can express their deepest philosophical beliefs as government officials, while religious ones can’t. You also privilege them in that the state can promote their activities and can’t for religious citizens. This is not to say that your interpretation is wrong, just that you are indeed willing to privilege one side when it suits you, and so the argument of “We can’t privilege religious citizens over secular ones” rings hollow. In fact, as you’ve described it you insist on treating religion like everything else pretty much only when it would disadvantage religion to be treated that way, but in every instance where a secular view is privileged you side with privileging the secular position. I don’t think that this is your intent, but given the effects I think it perfectly reasonable for the religious side to say that they don’t think that this was the original deal.

      Yes, but only to the extent that I’d accept the same for requests for secular exemptions. As a general principle, the government should not make rules restricting people for no good reason.

      I think you’ve been arguing on the Internet too long, as you keep adding these qualifiers as if you’re afraid that I’ll take your agreement and run away with it [grin].

      So, given that you argue that the state must remain neutral on religious matters but not on secular ones, that there’d NEVER be a case where that consideration means that the state has to, say, accept a religious exemption when they could say for a secular one that they can’t be bothered to exclude that rare case?

      The point is that you insist that the state be neutral, but allow it to take actions that it knows will impede religious practices, often for no good reason. You could get away with it if you had a policy of complete and general secular exemption, but you mostly don’t. So you effectively support the state making religions illegal without having any good reason to actually do that, because my view of religious accommodation allows the state to do that if they have good reason, and also allows it to state that some accommodations are more than the state can allow.

      My threshold is this: if the secular reason for the law is good enough to impose it on secular people, then it is good enough to impose it on religious people (regardless of whether that inadvertently makes their religious practice illegal).

      The problem is that the state’s reason can very well be “We don’t approve of that secular practice”. You don’t allow that for religion. So right there we have to treat them differently. Given that, the question is over whether it being unintentional matters. And I don’t think it does, once the state is aware that this is the impact. The state, I argue, cannot claim to be religiously neutral if it allows its laws and policies to disadvantage a specific religious group when it can avoid doing so. I argue that the state, to remain neutral, must actively AVOID promoting or impeding specific religious views. This is, in fact, CONSISTENT with your views on speech AND on the public announcements that we talked about. So, again, the only time you want to allow the state’s actions to not be neutral is when it impedes a specific religious view. This … does not seem like a reasonable deal [grin].

    28. Coel Post author

      You cannot use the right to freedom of expression to separate secular philosophical views from religious philosophical views; to do that, you need some kind of religious specific right.

      All I need is the principle that the *government* must be neutral about religion and must stay out of religious issues, and thus that people acting as government agents must do likewise.

      It would be literal nonsense to say that “government” must be neutral over religion but that anyone acting with state authority could of course be as religiously partial as they liked. So you cannot have a judge saying “owing to my religious beliefs, atheists get an extra ten years of jail, that’s just me exercising my religious freedom when sentencing”.

      historically, that starting point has been justified by a right to freedom of religion. If you deny a right to freedom of religion, then you have to have something that is specifically religious and has the power of a right — so that it can trump freedom of expression …

      I totally disagree. I start from: citizens are equal and must be treated equally by the state, regardless of their religious views. The only way of ensuring that is that everyone acting with government authority must adopt the stance of being religiously neutral and treat everyone equally regardless of their religious views. This is the logic of Jefferson’s Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty, to quote one historical example.

      And since freedom of expression is about expressing opinions, we don’t have that either, as opinions don’t have rights. This is … a rather irrelevant riposte.

      But people have rights, and one of those rights is free expression — but not when acting as a government agent!

      Essentially, you privilege secular citizens over religious ones because they can express their deepest philosophical beliefs as government officials, while religious ones can’t.

      Ok, if you want to express it that way. But, it follows directly from the principle of equality: the state treating citizens equally regardless of their religious views. And, further, the restriction is only on people when acting with government authority; they only have to step away from that role to regain their full freedom of expression.

      The point is that you insist that the state be neutral, but allow it to take actions that it knows will impede religious practices, often for no good reason.

      No, there has to be sufficient reason. If the state cannot provide sufficient reason for restricting a religious *practice*, then it should not be restricted.

      So you effectively support the state making religions illegal without having any good reason to actually do that, …

      No I don’t. I would support court challenges by the religious, demanding to know the reason for a restriction.

      The problem is that the state’s reason can very well be “We don’t approve of that secular practice”. You don’t allow that for religion. So right there we have to treat them differently.

      Yes, exactly. The state may have secular motives, but the state may not have religious motives.

    29. verbosestoic

      All I need is the principle that the *government* must be neutral about religion and must stay out of religious issues, and thus that people acting as government agents must do likewise.

      And how do you justify THAT principle? As I said, historically that was justified by appealing to the right of freedom of religion, and a number of states don’t agree that that right actually demands that. You need something that has the power of a right so that it overturns the freedom of expression AND non-discrimination rights, and you need to justify it in some way. And you can’t simply argue that society holds this because as far as I can tell there is NO society — well, maybe Canada — that actually believes that, and it won’t help you because once you elevate this to a justified right itself, then we are only arguing over how neutral the state has to be.

      You seem to be trying to justify it on the right to non-discrimination: no one must be discriminated against on the basis of their religious beliefs. But this doesn’t work because:

      1) Non-discrimination applies outside of the state as well, and you’ve made massive justifications here on the basis that you are only restricting the state, not citizens. (This is the weakest problem, BTW).

      2) Non-discrimination wouldn’t allow you to discriminate between non-religious and religious positions, by definition.

      3) In enacting the non-discrimination positions, it is possible that the state would have to support or promote disadvantaged groups, like affirmative action tries to do, so state neutrality about religion doesn’t follow from it.

      4) In many jurisdictions, if a law is found to even unintentionally disproportionately disadvantage a protected group, the state is required to either find a way to avoid that disproportionate disadvantage, or has to drop the law. Thus, the typical interpretation of the right to non-discrimination would support MY position, not yours.

      So you need another justification here, and the right to freedom of religion is the one that is typically invoked. What is your problem, then, with just accepting it, given that pretty much every state does, in fact, accept it as a specific right?

      It would be literal nonsense to say that “government” must be neutral over religion but that anyone acting with state authority could of course be as religiously partial as they liked. So you cannot have a judge saying “owing to my religious beliefs, atheists get an extra ten years of jail, that’s just me exercising my religious freedom when sentencing”.

      Um, who’s talking about cases like this? This would violate the religious freedom of the person sentenced. What we’re talking about are cases like this, which you kinda ignored when I brought it up the first time:

      You have a school that has a “community events” bulletin board. The local Stoic group asks if they can post a poster promoting their Christmas concert. The school says “Yes. The local humanist group asks the same. The school says “Yes”. The local Catholic Church asks the same. As I interpret your position from earlier, you think the school should say “No” here. That, to me, is discrimination against religion.

      In terms of advantages, here’s another example (I think it’s new). As part of their rituals, the Catholic Church uses greatly watered down wine, and gives it to all members who have made First Communion, which is usually at about 7 or so. Now, many jurisdictions have a law that says that you cannot serve alcohol to children. I argue that the state would be forced to allow it in this case even though they might not be forced to allow it in other cases.

      These are the things we’re talking about. You keep ramping up the impacts despite my repeatedly pointing out that other rights — or, in the case of the judge, even the SAME right — can trump religious accommodation. We’re not going to get very far if you keep doing that [grin].

      But people have rights, and one of those rights is free expression — but not when acting as a government agent!

      Remember, the chain was that I said that you were privileging secular opinions, you claimed that opinions don’t have rights, and I pointed out that if you wanted to use that as an argument then since freedom of expression is about opinions it’s not a right either, showing how bad that argument was. Instead of acknowledging that, you jumped back to “People have rights!”, ignoring that the whole argument was that there was no right here because we were only talking about opinions. Just admit that you made a bad argument there and that was irrelevant and then we can move on [grin].

      Also, your government official point still doesn’t work because you are distinguishing between religious and non-religious views there. If government officials were not allowed to promote ANY philosophical views, then you’d have a point. But it’s SPECIFICALLY religious views that you don’t allow them to promote, thus you need a specific right that distinguishes between religion and non-religion to do that. Typically, we’ve used the right to freedom of religion, but for some reason you don’t want to use that one. Fine, but you still need something there. And if you do use that something, then that’s the right we’ll be using to discuss the religious accommodation of laws.

      No, there has to be sufficient reason. If the state cannot provide sufficient reason for restricting a religious *practice*, then it should not be restricted.

      Does the fact that it is a religious practice as opposed to a secular practice matter to you in determining what counts as a good reason? Because as I pointed out long ago, a secular government’s MANDATE is to restrict secular practices, for pretty much any reason. Saying that you don’t like the reason they limited a secular practice does not invite a court challenge or anything other than — in a democracy — an attempt to vote in a party that will drop the law. I think that for religious practices the reasons have to be stronger. You’ve implied that you don’t think that. Why not, beyond the claim that I’ve already argued against that it treats religious people differently than non-religious ones?

      Yes, exactly. The state may have secular motives, but the state may not have religious motives.

      The state can disapprove of a religious practice for secular reasons, you know, as you yourself have defined when we talked about FGM and human sacrifice. If you take this line, then we’re talking about degree, not principle.

    30. Coel Post author

      And how do you justify THAT principle?

      I justify that through the collective agreement of “we the people”. Of, even more basically, that is what I am personally advocating as the underlying principle we should start from.

      As I said, historically that was justified by appealing to the right of freedom of religion, …

      And as I said, I don’t agree with you. And as I’ve also said, it is circular to justify an interpretation of “freedom of religion” by appealing to that interpretation of freedom of religion.

      You seem to be trying to justify it on the right to non-discrimination …

      Well, no, where I start from is the principle: “citizens are equal and must be treated equally by the state, regardless of their religious views. The only way of ensuring that is that everyone acting with government authority must adopt the stance of being religiously neutral and treat everyone equally regardless of their religious views”.

      What is your problem, then, with just accepting it, given that pretty much every state does, in fact, accept it as a specific right?

      “Pretty much every state” has granted religion special privileges, so “most states'” interpretation should not be taken as normative. My objection to accepting the doctrine you’re expounding is that it grants special privileges to religion. I prefer to start from the principle of equality, as above.

      The school says “Yes”. The local Catholic Church asks the same. As I interpret your position from earlier, you think the school should say “No” here. That, to me, is discrimination against religion.

      Well, no, that’s not my position. If the school has a policy of allowing posters from everyone, then they should allow it from the Catholic church. Essentially the rules on such third-party speech must not favour nor disfavour religion.

      But, since the school is a state institution, and given that the state is prohibited from having religious opinions, then the school itself must remain neutral. If you want to say that disfavours religion then ok, say that, but such restrictions on the *state* on the topic of religion (but not on other topics) is exactly the principle of church-state separation that many support.

      As part of their rituals, the Catholic Church uses greatly watered down wine, and gives it to all members who have made First Communion, which is usually at about 7 or so. Now, many jurisdictions have a law that says that you cannot serve alcohol to children. I argue that the state would be forced to allow it in this case even though they might not be forced to allow it in other cases.

      I would disagree with you. However the state could set a level for the alcohol content that enabled the watered-down wine. That would be fine so long as that threshold applied to all. On a very basic principle I totally reject the idea of different thresholds for children of Catholic parents versus children of non-religious parents.

      Remember, the chain was that I said that you were privileging secular opinions, you claimed that opinions don’t have rights, …

      Exactly. People have rights, opinions don’t. If I were privileging secular *citizens* over religious *citizens*, then you’d have a point. But the religious citizens only lose freedom of expression when acting as government agents (and indeed secular citizens also lose some aspects of freedom of expression when acting as a state agent). Thus citizens, when acting as citizens, are neither advantaged nor disadvantaged by my stance.

      I pointed out that if you wanted to use that as an argument then since freedom of expression is about opinions it’s not a right either …

      Freedom of expression is about PEOPLE’s freedom to express their opinions, it is not the opinions that have rights, it is the **people**.

      Also, your government official point still doesn’t work because you are distinguishing between religious and non-religious views there.

      Yes.

      But it’s SPECIFICALLY religious views that you don’t allow them to promote, …

      Yes!

      thus you need a specific right that distinguishes between religion and non-religion to do that.

      It’s not a “right” so much as a “principle”. That principle being the instruction to the government to stay out of matters of religious opinion, that being the whole principle of church-state separation. (And if you then want me to justify *that*, then see my starting point above.)

      Typically, we’ve used the right to freedom of religion, but for some reason you don’t want to use that one.

      Correct, I don’t.

      Fine, but you still need something there.

      Yes, and there I insert the principle of church-state separation. (Which is a restriction on government, although you could also regard it as a right to be treated equally by the government.)

      And if you do use that something, then that’s the right we’ll be using to discuss the religious accommodation of laws.

      Yes! Agreed! It is indeed that right to equal treatment that we then use to settle (or reject) requests for religious accommodation.

      Tom, being a Catholic, wants to serve his 10-yr-old son watered-down wine as part of a religious event.

      Dan, being non-religious, wants to serve his 10-yr-old son watered-down wine at a formal dinner party, since he feels that introducing children to small amounts of alcohol like this is appropriate and leads to a better approach to alcohol.

      Me: By basic principles of equality we should apply the same rules to both (regardless of the religious content of one of the requests) and either accept the parental discretion in both cases or neither.

      You: We need to grant more accommodation to Tom than to Dan, because his request is religious and religious requests matter more and need to be granted special indulgence (whereas we can just say “no” to Dan without caring much).

      I think that for religious practices the reasons have to be stronger. You’ve implied that you don’t think that.

      Correct.

      Why not, …?

      For reasons of equality, and for the reason that the lifestyle choice of being religious should not grant privileges over the lifestyle choice of hosting a dinner party.

      The state can disapprove of a religious practice for secular reasons, you know, as you yourself have defined when we talked about FGM and human sacrifice.

      The state can disapprove of the secular content of a practice, and can act with *that* motive (regardless of the religious implications). It cannot approve or disapprove of the *religious* aspects of the practice.

    31. verbosestoic

      I justify that through the collective agreement of “we the people”. Of, even more basically, that is what I am personally advocating as the underlying principle we should start from.

      This doesn’t help at all. If this is your personal starting point, why should anyone accept that starting point? Also, it seems that no one else does accept this as the starting point in these matters, so you can’t even appeal to history — as you do — to make your point. And it still isn’t clear that you can get to where you want to go from there. This is on top of it potentially being a convenient way to DEFINE your way to a position instead of discovering it or reasoning it out. So saying “This is just where I start” doesn’t in any way get us any further to any proper understanding of the issues or any resolution of any debate. You certainly can’t criticize anyone else for not following the starting point you personally chose for yourself.

      And as I said, I don’t agree with you. And as I’ve also said, it is circular to justify an interpretation of “freedom of religion” by appealing to that interpretation of freedom of religion.

      True … but who’s doing that? Remember, you denied that there was ANY SUCH RIGHT AT ALL. We aren’t getting into interpretations of it if you are claiming that no such thing exists.

      Well, no, where I start from is the principle: “citizens are equal and must be treated equally by the state, regardless of their religious views. The only way of ensuring that is that everyone acting with government authority must adopt the stance of being religiously neutral and treat everyone equally regardless of their religious views”.

      Um, which IS the right to non-discrimination, no? Unless you want to claim that this is a specific right that applies only to religion and is not justified by that right, at which point you have a specific right to freedom of religion … and since you include your conclusion, would be YOU engaging in circular reasoning.

      The only really reasonable position you can be taking here based on all that you’ve said is to start from anti-discrimination, but anti-discrimination/equal protection doesn’t actually support you here, for all of the reasons I mentioned and you ignored. And if you don’t start from there, then you run into the right to non-discrimination as soon as you try to treat religious citizens differently in any way

      “Pretty much every state” has granted religion special privileges, so “most states’” interpretation should not be taken as normative.

      Why not? Why should we take your interpretation as definitive but not theirs, especially since it’s what they’ve been doing for ages? Why are you right and they wrong?

      My objection to accepting the doctrine you’re expounding is that it grants special privileges to religion. I prefer to start from the principle of equality, as above.

      As I’ve noted, you have no issues putting extra RESTRICTIONS on religion, and all rights grant those sorts of privileges anyway, so that’s a VERY weak argument.

      Well, no, that’s not my position. If the school has a policy of allowing posters from everyone, then they should allow it from the Catholic church. Essentially the rules on such third-party speech must not favour nor disfavour religion.

      Two things:

      1) I only said that it seemed to be your position because when I brought this specific case up last time you said that it wouldn’t be allowed if it was a religious event, so it’s not me just extrapolating here [grin].

      2) Your policy that I could speak on my personal Stoic views in government contexts but not my religious views actually disfavours religion, and you have no problem with it.

      About the only way for you to have a reasonable idea here, it seems to me, is to argue that official government COMMUNICATIONS must not express a religious view, because there’s no official religious position of a secular government. But then I’d just say that official government communications can’t express any view that the government doesn’t hold and everything is equal again … and I couldn’t talk about my Stoicism either. At which point, I’d need you to give me a clear, specific example where as a government official I could express Stoic views but not religious ones, keeping in mind the “official government position” qualifier.

      Exactly. People have rights, opinions don’t. If I were privileging secular *citizens* over religious *citizens*, then you’d have a point.

      By the right to freedom of expression, if you limit when they can express their opinions you limit the citizens. Again, this is a really bad argument and I can’t see why you keep trying to defend it: we are not talking about opinions, we are talking about citizens EXPRESSING their opinions. That is something that can be covered under a right. End of story.

      It’s not a “right” so much as a “principle”.

      If it’s not a right, then it can’t trump the right to freedom of expression, and so you aren’t allowed to restrict in that way. You can try to make it a reasonable condition of employment, but they aren’t allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion, which is what you explicitly do. So you need a right here, somewhere, somehow.

      (Which is a restriction on government, although you could also regard it as a right to be treated equally by the government.)

      But IS it that right? If it is, it doesn’t support your interpretation. If it isn’t, you need a right to appeal to. So please avoid the “you may regard it as”. I need to know what it is, not what it can be considered.

      Tom, being a Catholic, wants to serve his 10-yr-old son watered-down wine as part of a religious event.
      Dan, being non-religious, wants to serve his 10-yr-old son watered-down wine at a formal dinner party, since he feels that introducing children to small amounts of alcohol like this is appropriate and leads to a better approach to alcohol.

      Here’s my interpretation (you actually got mine wrong, BTW):

      For the parent, I would appeal to the right of a parent to raise their child as long as they are not being abusive, note that in this case it is not likely to cause the issues that the law was created to prevent, and allow it. This would also cover cultural cases.

      For the religious case, I would argue that this is the state making a religion illegal, which violates freedom of religion. Taking a loose interpretation of your starting principle, I’d also argue that this violates state neutrality because it disproportionately impacts a religious group, whether intentional or not, and is a case of the state imposing on religious practices by a law that makes the practice illegal even though the law could easily accommodate the religious practice.

      For someone who thought as your first person did for a child that they were not the guardian of, I’d argue that no rights are in play here and so there is no need for the state to change the law to accommodate a rights-claim, even if that specific instance likely wouldn’t count as something the law really wanted to stop. The state can say that it doesn’t need to exclude all cases where the law might not apply as long as it covers the ones where there’s a clash of rights.

      Ultimately, the key point is that you allow the state to make a religious practice illegal when it could easily accommodate it and still have its law. This does not seem like state neutrality to me.

      The state can disapprove of the secular content of a practice, and can act with *that* motive (regardless of the religious implications). It cannot approve or disapprove of the *religious* aspects of the practice.

      This is your principle, but I’m talking about pragmatics here: a secular state can advance good secular reasons for why a religion, in and of itself, is bad for a secular society. You do think that if that was the case they couldn’t ban it, but it’s hard to see how that comports with your view that as long as the state’s reason is secular they can effectively ban a religion or religious practice.

    32. Coel Post author

      This doesn’t help at all. If this is your personal starting point, why should anyone accept that starting point?

      When it comes to moral principles, starting points always comes down to someone’s opinion, since moral realism is a non-starter.

      … you run into the right to non-discrimination as soon as you try to treat religious citizens differently in any way

      I don’t want to treat religious citizens any differently (when acting as citizens, that is; anyone acting as a government agent has their freedom limited, since they then *are* the state). My whole starting point is that the state should treat everyone equally regardless of the religious content of their opinions and acts.

      As I’ve noted, you have no issues putting extra RESTRICTIONS on religion …

      No, I’m putting extra restrictions on the state, and on those acting as the state. These are not extra restrictions “on religion”.

      About the only way for you to have a reasonable idea here, it seems to me, is to argue that official government COMMUNICATIONS must not express a religious view, …

      Agreed. Nothing about the government should contain or express a religious view.

      I’d need you to give me a clear, specific example where as a government official I could express Stoic views but not religious ones, …

      Nobody has bothered putting a restriction on the government preventing government agents having such views, since nobody cares enough about that to bother. That’s the difference.

      By the right to freedom of expression, if you limit when they can express their opinions you limit the citizens.

      Those acting with state authority are always more limited in what opinions they can express. Freedom of expression does not apply to the government and hence it does not apply to people acting with state authority.

      Again, this is a really bad argument and I can’t see why you keep trying to defend it:

      I’m defending it because it is a really good argument and is central to the whole issue.

      we are not talking about opinions, we are talking about citizens EXPRESSING their opinions.

      Sure, citizens have freedom of expression. The government does not. That means that citizens when acting as the state do not have the full freedom of expression that they enjoy when acting as private citizens.

      Citizens have the right to free expression. They lose that right for the period of time that they are acting as agents of the state.

    33. verbosestoic

      When it comes to moral principles, starting points always comes down to someone’s opinion, since moral realism is a non-starter.

      And, of course, you know that my personal starting point is to absolutely reject that (although I’m more an objectivist than a realist per se). So this isn’t going to help you [grin].

      At any rate, one of the reasons I’m an objectivist about morality is that by making this appeal you’ve simply made the entire debate pointless. After all, if this is just your personal starting point, then all I need to do is point out that I don’t accept it — and, indeed, few others actually do — and there’s no debate anymore. But your starting point here has been that there is a “proper” understanding of religion and freedom of religion and religious accommodation. If you hold that, then you have to hold that there is also an OBJECTIVE way to come to that proper understanding. If we have to start from your own personal starting point, then that’s not possible; all we have is the understanding that we accept, not a proper one. And given in how many places you’ve argued against the actual historical definitions, you don’t even have a starting point that it seems that everyone accepts. So either you have something objective, or you don’t have any way to justify your claim that this is the proper understanding of the relevant issues.

      My whole starting point is that the state should treat everyone equally regardless of the religious content of their opinions and acts.

      And then you immediately say that citizens who are religious and who are government officials cannot act in the same way as non-religious citizens. That doesn’t work (more on that later). But the key is that you are saying that they can’t act in ways that others can, and the distinction in the acts is that they are religious in nature. That’s treating people differently on the basis of their religious positions.

      No, I’m putting extra restrictions on the state, and on those acting as the state. These are not extra restrictions “on religion”.

      The distinction is religious in nature; that’s how you decide what’s acceptable and what isn’t. That’s a restriction on religion, because you’re specifically referencing it. It’s not even an unintentional case, as you are explicit that it is the religious content that causes the problem. Again, I’m not saying that you’re WRONG to make that distinction, but in order for this to progress you really need to admit that, yes, this is what you’re doing.

      This becomes even more necessary when you note my counter-response that provides the same outcome but doesn’t, in fact, single out religion, and in fact would make it so that I couldn’t express Stoic views as a government official either. More on that later, too, just noting that you completely ignored it and it’s actually very critical.

      I’m defending it because it is a really good argument and is central to the whole issue.

      Um, I think you’ve mistaken — again — what argument I’m calling “really bad”. The really bad argument is the one you made where you insisted that opinions don’t have rights and so restricting opinions doesn’t violate any rights. This is absolutely absurd, as the right to freedom of expression is, in fact, all ABOUT opinions and is explicit that when you restrict the right of citizens to express their opinions you restrict the CITIZENS, not just the opinions. So that argument is an absolute non-starter.

      It’s also not critical to your argument because you keep dropping it completely to focus on the argument that is not only not as bad but is ACTUALLY critical, the idea that you can restrict what government officials are allowed to say at least when acting as government officials. Thus, not only is the argument very, very bad, it doesn’t help your case at all, and isn’t even the main one you’re relying on.

      Sure, citizens have freedom of expression. The government does not. That means that citizens when acting as the state do not have the full freedom of expression that they enjoy when acting as private citizens.
      Citizens have the right to free expression. They lose that right for the period of time that they are acting as agents of the state.

      Well, you get a lot of things wrong here.

      First, you seem to be relying on this being a particular facet of governments. It’s not. You can add to any employment contract that the person is not allowed to talk about certain things. For example, I’ve been parts of non-disclosure agreements for my work, and in fact even people who sign up for closed betas of games can be told that they can’t talk about the game until a certain date. So free expression is not so expansive a right as you think. That being said, the right to non-discrimination says that those restrictions cannot be based on membership in a particular protected group, and indeed cannot even disproportionately impact a protected group. So you can’t say that your employee can’t talk about their religion if they could talk about their non-religious views.

      Which is, taken shallowly, what you’re doing here.

      Now, is it possible to get around this to get what you want? There are two ways to do that:

      1) Oppose freedom of expression here with a right OTHER THAN equal protection or non-discrimination. This would be making your “Church-State Neutrality” into a right, making it effectively a right to freedom of religion.

      2) Alternatively, you can take my tack, and argue that government officials cannot profess any opinions when acting specifically as government officials that are not the official opinions of the government. Since the government has a policy — in your world — of Church-State Neutrality, when acting as government officials they will never promote or disparage religions because the State HAS no opinions of the sort. But it would also mean that I couldn’t express my STOIC beliefs there either, as the State is not Stoic.

      Which brings me back to the example:

      Nobody has bothered putting a restriction on the government preventing government agents having such views, since nobody cares enough about that to bother. That’s the difference.

      That no one cares enough to enforce it doesn’t mean that it would be allowed, and this is not a defense against a charge of discrimination. And I asked you for a specific example of a case where you think I could talk about my Stoic beliefs as a government official and not my religious ones, so that I can determine if that would violate equal protection/non-discrimination or not.

    34. Coel Post author

      After all, if this is just your personal starting point, then all I need to do is point out that I don’t accept it — and, indeed, few others actually do — and there’s no debate anymore.

      Except that society does need to agree on what “religious freedom” actually means in practice; thus this issue will continue to be debated.

      But your starting point here has been that there is a “proper” understanding of religion and freedom of religion and religious accommodation.

      Yes, where the “proper” understanding is based on the more basic principle of equality under the law — a principle that is fairly widely held. Admittedly, that does rest only on people’s opinion. But, it may be a starting point on which we can get widespread agreement.

      And then you immediately say that citizens who are religious and who are government officials cannot act in the same way as non-religious citizens.

      Correct. And that’s because a government official is acting as “the state” and not as a citizen.

      That’s treating people differently on the basis of their religious positions.

      No, it’s treating the state differently from citizens. A government official *is* the state.

      That’s a restriction on religion, because you’re specifically referencing it.

      *People* have rights of religious freedom; the state does NOT have the right of religious freedom. Nor does “religion” have the right of religious freedom.

      In order for this to progress you really need to admit that, yes, this is what you’re doing.

      I am 100% clear that I am instructing THE STATE to stay out of religion, and thus people acting as state agents must do likewise.

      The really bad argument is the one you made where you insisted that opinions don’t have rights and so restricting opinions doesn’t violate any rights.

      Opinions DO NOT have tights. Restricting someone’s freedom to express an opinion is a restriction on the freedom of THE PERSON, but not a restriction of the rights of “the opinion” since opinions don’t have rights.

      … and is explicit that when you restrict the right of citizens to express their opinions you restrict the CITIZENS, not just the opinions.

      Yes. When I restrict the rights of citizens ACTING AS STATE AGENTS then I am restricting the rights of citizens WHEN ACTING AS STATE AGENTS. I am 100% explicit and clear on that.

      You can add to any employment contract that the person is not allowed to talk about certain things.

      Sure, but that’s merely a civil contract, not a restriction by the state, so is pretty irrelevant here.

      So free expression is not so expansive a right as you think.

      Yes it is. But people can agree not to speak. That’s up to them.

      Alternatively, you can take my tack, and argue that government officials cannot profess any opinions when acting specifically as government officials that are not the official opinions of the government.

      I guess you could take that line. But then you’d need to list pretty exhaustively all the opinions that the state has. You’d have to list, for example, every opinion that a school teacher ever utters. For example, if a school teacher walks into class saying: “Morning pupils, it’s a bright and cheerful morning, isn’t it?”, then you’d have to make sure that someone somewhere had documented which mornings are, in the opinion of the state, bright and cheerful, and which are not.

      Or, would it not just be easier to list the opinions that the teacher should *not* promote? Such as religious ones?

    35. verbosestoic

      Except that society does need to agree on what “religious freedom” actually means in practice; thus this issue will continue to be debated.

      Then you can never use “We all only have our own personal starting points” as an argument in any way, because you have to accept that we all have to agree on that in the end anyway. Also, it means that you have to justify your starting point if you want to have any hope of resolving the debate if people disagree.

      Yes, where the “proper” understanding is based on the more basic principle of equality under the law — a principle that is fairly widely held. Admittedly, that does rest only on people’s opinion. But, it may be a starting point on which we can get widespread agreement.

      But since most people already have agreed with at least some of the basic principles of freedom of religion that you reject, trying to reduce it to that seems to be moving AWAY from what it considered the “proper understanding”. If your “proper understanding” is just going to be what most people agree to, then most people already agree with some form of religious accommodation, and with the idea that we have a specific right to religious freedom. So on what grounds do you justify saying that there is a “proper understanding” other than that?

      Also, if you want to take this tack, you have to go back and deal with all the points I raised about how the common understanding of equality under the law — or non-discrimination — works AGAINST your position, and supports mine. For example, equality under the law forces changes to or even the repealing of a law if the law as applied disproportionately impacts a protected group. This ALONE could justify religious accommodation in most cases, and you never addressed it.

      No, it’s treating the state differently from citizens. A government official *is* the state.

      And is still a citizen. For example, you wouldn’t be able to discriminate in promoting someone on the basis of their gender, even though that promotion would be the manager acting as the state, no matter WHAT reason the state gave for doing so. Government officials, then, still possess all of the rights that they possess as citizens, and so you cannot use “You’re acting as the state!” as an excuse to discriminate against them based on their membership in a protected category.

      *People* have rights of religious freedom; the state does NOT have the right of religious freedom.

      Thus, state officials still possess those rights to religious freedom, meaning that you cannot discriminate against them on that basis, except to preserve the rights to religious freedom of others. This is a tack that you have resisted the entire time, but you always seem to end up here.

      Opinions DO NOT have tights. Restricting someone’s freedom to express an opinion is a restriction on the freedom of THE PERSON, but not a restriction of the rights of “the opinion” since opinions don’t have rights.

      Fine. What in the world does this have to do with ANYTHING I’ve argued?!? I know that’s what you’re saying, but it gives you no out against anything I’ve argued as far as I can see. Like the comments on religion not having rights above, it seems to be more nitpicking than an actual argument, because as I’ve said repeatedly the right to freedom of expression makes it clear that limiting the expression — which is what we’re talking about here — limits the citizen’s rights. So everything I’ve said based on rights still holds. So, again, what in the world is this supposed to do for you?

      Yes. When I restrict the rights of citizens ACTING AS STATE AGENTS then I am restricting the rights of citizens WHEN ACTING AS STATE AGENTS. I am 100% explicit and clear on that.

      Yes, you are. What you’re missing is that just because they are state agents it doesn’t mean that you can restrict their rights as much as you want. They still maintain them, and so again you need something with the force of a right to treat one group differently than another on the basis of a protected category, or else you violate the right to equal protection.

      Sure, but that’s merely a civil contract, not a restriction by the state, so is pretty irrelevant here.

      Actually, it’s quite relevant here, because that’s the ACTUAL thing you can use to restrict the speech of state officials. After all, they are all employees, and these contracts are perfectly valid restrictions to the right of freedom of expression. So that’s what we’re REALLY using here; there is no special restriction on state employees in play here, and you have not justified one.

      Yes it is. But people can agree not to speak. That’s up to them.

      No employment contract can violate a protected right, or else it is unenforceable. Thus, these sorts of contracts violate no rights, even the right to freedom of expression … and things like non-disclosure contracts ARE enforceable.

      This also includes the right to non-discrimination, which means that in all employment contracts — including those of state officials — you cannot include restricts that apply only to a protected group and thus discriminate on that basis.

      For example, if a school teacher walks into class saying: “Morning pupils, it’s a bright and cheerful morning, isn’t it?”, then you’d have to make sure that someone somewhere had documented which mornings are, in the opinion of the state, bright and cheerful, and which are not.

      Or I can actually do the intelligent thing and note that some things are indeed official statements and some things are personal ones. Saying “Good morning” is personal, and not an official statement, as would be giving personal advice. Not everything that a government official says is an official government statement, and while it seems popular to assume that, it is massively problematic if you try to insist that it is.

      Thus, I’d say this: in a discussion in a class of personal philosophies, it would be acceptable for the teacher to express their own religious beliefs, as that is clearly a personal opinion. Do you agree with this?

      If you do, then can you PLEASE finally give me an example where I, as a government official, could express my Stoic views and not my religious ones?

      Or, would it not just be easier to list the opinions that the teacher should *not* promote? Such as religious ones?

      You still need to define what it means to promote the view, and what counts as a religious view, and still have the issue with personal statements and official ones, and STILL have an issue with the right to non-discrimination and equal protection. So, no, it’s not easier at all.

    36. Coel Post author

      Then you can never use “We all only have our own personal starting points” as an argument in any way …

      Morality will always come down to people’s personal ideas, attempts to persuade each other, and society-wide agreements based on that. That’s true whatever position on “religious freedom” we end up with.

      But since most people already have agreed with at least some of the basic principles of freedom of religion that you reject, …

      I don’t think the basic principles are agreed! For example, there is a lot of discussion of whether someone can decline to do parts of their job for religious reasons (e.g. sign marriage certificates, dispense certain drugs). The Hobby-Lobby ruling was a 5-4 vote suggesting a court split down the middle on how to interpret religious freedom. This is why I’m arguing for a position which, as I see it, provides greater clarity.

      What you’re missing is that just because they are state agents it doesn’t mean that you can restrict their rights as much as you want.

      Agreed, they don’t lose all and every right through being a state agent. But, where the state has been specifically instructed to hold to some standard, then the citizen acting as a state agent must abide by that standard. Thus, they lose freedom of expression and freedom of action in that regard.

      Thus, if the state has been instructed to be neutral about religion, then a state agent must be neutral about religion. That means they lose part of their freedom of expression when acting as a state agent.

      Government officials, then, still possess all of the rights that they possess as citizens, and so you cannot use “You’re acting as the state!” as an excuse to discriminate against them …

      No, they do not possess *all* the rights they possess as citizens. They specifically lose some of them, where the state has been specifically restricted. But, you’re right that such an employee could not be discriminated against on grounds of race or gender or whatever since that would entail some other government agent acting in that discriminatory way.

      Thus, I’d say this: in a discussion in a class of personal philosophies, it would be acceptable for the teacher to express their own religious beliefs, as that is clearly a personal opinion. Do you agree with this?

      It depends on their intent. If their intent was to teach the pupils about a range of viewpoints and to help the students understand those viewpoints, then, as part of that, it may be ok for the teacher to discuss their own personal opinion, as one among several viewpoints.

      If their intent, though, was to promote their own view as normative, then that would not be ok.

      If you do, then can you PLEASE finally give me an example where I, as a government official, could express my Stoic views and not my religious ones?

      The state (in, e.g., the US and France) has been specifically instructed to stay out of religion. The instruction not to promote religious viewpoints thus applies to state-funded teachers.

      There is no similar instruction on the state to stay out of philosophies such as Stoicism. Therefore a teacher would have much greater leeway to promote such views. That’s because no-one has every bothered putting a restriction on them. However, were rival gangs of Stoic versus Cynic philosophers causing gang warfare on the streets, then maybe people would ask for such a restriction.

    37. verbosestoic

      Morality will always come down to people’s personal ideas, attempts to persuade each other, and society-wide agreements based on that. That’s true whatever position on “religious freedom” we end up with.

      The instant you say “This is just my personal starting point” to someone in a discussion who is disagreeing with that and asking you to justify it, you’ve lost the argument, admitting that there is nothing you can say to convince them of that position.

      I don’t think the basic principles are agreed! For example, there is a lot of discussion of whether someone can decline to do parts of their job for religious reasons (e.g. sign marriage certificates, dispense certain drugs). The Hobby-Lobby ruling was a 5-4 vote suggesting a court split down the middle on how to interpret religious freedom.

      That there are gray areas doesn’t mean that there isn’t broad agreement, let alone that there isn’t broad agreement on things that YOU EXPLICITLY REJECT, which was my actual claim. For example, there is broad agreement that there is an explicit and distinct right to freedom of religion. And there is also broad agreement that if a law, even inadvertently, would make practicing a religion illegal, then the law must exempt them from that. You disagree with both of these, yet again there seems to be broad agreement on this.

      In the specific Hobby Lobby case, the issue was whether the law was actually forcing them to participate in a practice that was against their religion, since it wasn’t actually direct action, and the split reflects that. So the disagreement wasn’t over what freedom of religion entailed, but instead over what counted as direct action. Again, a gray area doesn’t mean that we have to toss out everything we’ve agreed on.

      Thus, if the state has been instructed to be neutral about religion, then a state agent must be neutral about religion. That means they lose part of their freedom of expression when acting as a state agent.

      Instructed by whom? Popular vote? Popular vote doesn’t trump rights, as seen in the gay marriage debate. Legislative action? Again, that doesn’t trump rights. Only a right can trump rights, and so appealing to freedom of religion — state officials in their official capacity promoting or denigrating religion seems to be taking too authoritative a stance — works well. Nothing else you’ve described does so.

      No, they do not possess *all* the rights they possess as citizens. They specifically lose some of them, where the state has been specifically restricted.

      No, they possess all of them, which is why you need to appeal to rights or to non-discriminatory positions to restrict them.

      It depends on their intent. If their intent was to teach the pupils about a range of viewpoints and to help the students understand those viewpoints, then, as part of that, it may be ok for the teacher to discuss their own personal opinion, as one among several viewpoints.
      If their intent, though, was to promote their own view as normative, then that would not be ok.

      And somehow my comment of “a discussion of personal philosophies” confused you as to what the intent was?

    38. Coel Post author

      The instant you say “This is just my personal starting point” … you’ve lost the argument, …

      All of morality always comes down to personal feelings. Unless you want to argue for moral realism?

      And there is also broad agreement that if a law, even inadvertently, would make practicing a religion illegal, then the law must exempt them from that.

      No, there is no broad agreement on that, only a fudge. E.g. That statement would require religious exemption from outlawing of FGM. That is not broadly agreed.

      Instructed by whom? Popular vote? Popular vote doesn’t trump rights, as seen in the gay marriage debate. Legislative action? Again, that doesn’t trump rights. Only a right can trump rights, …

      Instructed (in the case of the USA) by the constitution, which derived from popular consent. All “rights” come down to collective agreements. No right has ever been established any other way! The idea of “natural rights” is “nonsense on stilts”, to quote Bentham. Quoting “rights” as though they trump collective agreement is equally nonsense.

    39. verbosestoic

      All of morality always comes down to personal feelings. Unless you want to argue for moral realism?

      1) I’m a moral objectivist, not necessarily a moral realist.

      2) The best argument in favour of moral objectivism is the one that I made here: if you hold that morality is subjective, then the instant that you disagree with someone on that personal basis there is no debate and no proper understanding to be had. So if you say to someone that an action A that they are taking is immoral, and they disagree, and you end up appealing to your own personal view of morality that doesn’t match theirs, then there is no debate to be had and at BEST your claim that what they did is immoral is meaningless.

      3) You’re actually talking about the law, not about morality.

      At any rate, the real key here that I do think you need to understand is that the instant you reply to someone’s demand that you justify a principle that you are using as the basis of your argument with “It’s just my personal view”, you’ve lost the debate, as your own personal view a) won’t trump theirs and b) is not a justification for ANYONE else to accept it. At best, you’re trying to shut down the debate by grounding your position in something that cannot be argued, similar to grounding it in an emotional appeal. And in both cases, neither actually provide any argumentative support.

      No, there is no broad agreement on that, only a fudge. E.g. That statement would require religious exemption from outlawing of FGM. That is not broadly agreed.

      Except that we HAVE broad agreement that rights stop as soon as they violate the rights of other people. In general, almost everything you’re complaining about are things that people generally broadly agree about, and your stance doesn’t actually align with what pretty much ANYONE thinks, as I’ve pointed out. You completely ignore the broad agreements we have to argue for a proper understanding, but then try to appeal to “broad understanding” instead of to any kind of objective measure, and then ON TOP OF THAT you use ANY gray area of area of disagreement to argue that there is no broad agreement AT ALL. That … is not exactly consistent.

      Instructed (in the case of the USA) by the constitution, which derived from popular consent.

      Except the Constitution instructed no such thing, at least not directly. It did not instruct state officials to not talk about their religion, and as far as I know did not say that state officials are restricted in their rights beyond what is reasonable for others. As far as I can see, you have NO Constitutional right to appeal to here, other than your interpretation of the First Amendment.

      And rights, even you have to agree, are collective agreements in a different way than, say, simple referendums or the choices of elected officials, as that’s their whole purpose: they present overwhelming principles so that if the majority votes to impose on the minority, the minority is protected. Thus, my argument that you can restrict actions if it violates rights in ways that you can’t otherwise seems reasonable, and obvious. If you don’t disagree with this, then you either need to appeal to a right or show how you can restrict a right without using rights.

      All “rights” come down to collective agreements. No right has ever been established any other way! The idea of “natural rights” is “nonsense on stilts”, to quote Bentham.

      So, if China’s collective agreement says that freedom of speech doesn’t exist, they’re acting perfectly reasonably and aren’t wrong about that? If Saudi Arabia argues that there is no freedom of religion at all, are they just as right as you who says there is, because that’s THEIR collective agreement?

      Also note that pretty much all societies — including that of the U.S. — have a collective agreement that freedom of religion is a separate and distinct right from that of equal protection. If that’s all a right is, then your arguments that it is wrong for them to think so must be false, and empirically proven false at that.

    40. Coel Post author

      … if you hold that morality is subjective, then the instant that you disagree with someone on that personal basis there is no debate and no proper understanding to be had.

      That’s not really true. Under moral subjectivism, if we disagree about whether something is moral, we can still discuss why we feel that way and we can seek to persuade each other. We cannot, it is true, appeal to some objective standard to adjudicate our dispute. But, just because we might want such an adjudicator doesn’t mean there is one, and nor does it mean there is a flaw in moral subjectivism.

      the instant you reply to someone’s demand that you justify a principle that you are using as the basis of your argument with “It’s just my personal view”, you’ve lost the debate, as your own personal view a) won’t trump theirs and b) is not a justification for ANYONE else to accept it.

      But, at root, all moral claims rest on personal opinion. And from those personal opinions arise collective agreements. In saying that, I am not trying to end the debate, and I fully accept that me declaring my opinion is not a justification for anyone to accept it.

      What I am saying is that, we do need to recognise that *all* moral discussion comes down to personal opinion. There really is nothing else; there are only people and their opinions and feelings. Thus, appealing to “rights” as though they are different from collective agreements, and as though they trump collective agreements, is to mistake what moral discourse is about.

      I fully recognise that I have to argue for my view of “religious freedom”, but what I’m saying is that so does anyone with a different view!

      … almost everything you’re complaining about are things that people generally broadly agree about …

      Again, I disagree. There seems to me a general rather confused mess over this issue, with people agreeing broad principles, but only because those principles are vague and largely undefined, and then we get into arguments whenever anyone tries to implement those principles. That is a sign that, actually, there is no broad agreement on what “religious freedom” conveys.

      Except the Constitution instructed no such thing … It did not … say that state officials are restricted in their rights beyond what is reasonable for others.

      Most US Supreme Court rulings agree with my interpretation. Take, for example, the Lemon Tests, and rulings such as Lee vs Weisman (1992) and Santa Fe vs Doe (2000).

      So, if China’s collective agreement says that freedom of speech doesn’t exist, they’re acting perfectly reasonably and aren’t wrong about that?

      “Freedom of speech” has no status other than as a collective agreement. It is one that I fully support and regard as highly important, but it is not something imposed by some supra-human or objective standard.

      If Saudi Arabia argues that there is no freedom of religion at all, are they just as right as you who says there is, because that’s THEIR collective agreement?

      If you’re asking “are they right?” in a moral-realist sense, appealing to some objective supra-human standard to settle moral disputes, then my reply is that there is no such standard and that the question is misconceived.

    41. verbosestoic

      That’s not really true. Under moral subjectivism, if we disagree about whether something is moral, we can still discuss why we feel that way and we can seek to persuade each other.

      But there’s no “proper understanding” to be had there, and that’s what you were pushing for, beyond what follows from your opponents own personal beliefs. You’d have to show that they are inconsistent given their starting point to argue that they didn’t have a “proper understanding” of the issue. Otherwise, you’d just be advocating for them to accept your view … which is problematic.

      But the key is that at any point in a debate if your opponent asks you why they should start from a certain position and you say that it’s just your own personal starting point, there’s no more debate to be had. Ruder opponents than me will stop merely at “Who cares what your starting point is?”. It never works as an argument, and so it is pointless to bring it up unless you intend to follow it up with “So I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree”.

      But, just because we might want such an adjudicator doesn’t mean there is one, and nor does it mean there is a flaw in moral subjectivism.

      The flaw this reveals in moral subjectivism is pretty much the same sort of flaw that we see in hard determinists and behaviourists: they are unable to act according to their own principles. For them, they always act as if people have responsibility in a way that hard determinism/hard behaviourism says we can’t. For moral subjectivists, they always tend to act as if there’s a RIGHT answer to a moral question, even though subjectivism denies that there is, in fact, any such answer. You do that here with freedom of religion; you are trying to convince me that your answer is RIGHT, not merely that it is a good one or one that I should adopt.

      If you want a good theory of subjectivist morality that tries to justify the stronger stance, you might want to try “The Emotional Construction of Morals” by Jesse J Prinz. I think he fails to get to a justification for imposing moral views on people in strong ways, but he does do a very good job — almost too good a job — of outlining the other positions, what’s good about them, and why he rejects them.

      But, at root, all moral claims rest on personal opinion.

      That’s just your personal opinion [grin].

      We treat moral questions as if they have a right answer. For example, we tend to act as if there is a right answer to the question “Is slavery wrong?”. We don’t tend to think that someone who, say, rapes someone and defends the morality of their actions with “My personal morality says that it was perfectly morally okay” is giving any defense at all. Our entire concept of morality is based around it being objective in the sense that there is a right answer, and a right answer that goes beyond personal preference, and a right answer that goes beyond simple societal agreement. Thus, if this is true — and it seems to be — if morality is not objective then it seems to me that morality is meaningless; if we cannot have an objective morality then we cannot have anything that looks at all like morality. Instead, we have laws, or social mores, or the like, but we don’t have morality as the term is actually used.

      Now, this doesn’t mean that an objective morality is possible. It might indeed be impossible. But for the most part, subjectivists only have two main arguments:

      1) We haven’t found an objective basis yet, which is not a justification for saying that there can’t be one.

      2) Humans tend to moralize subjectively, which applies to every fact we’ve ever considered, so doesn’t refute that either.

      Do you have a better argument to defend your position here?

      Thus, appealing to “rights” as though they are different from collective agreements, and as though they trump collective agreements, is to mistake what moral discourse is about.

      Um, but rights DO trump almost all collective agreements EXCEPT other rights, as your yourself conceded. So it’s perfectly reasonable in a discussion like this to say that if you’re going to violate a right, you’d better have another right in play that requires that, whatever rights boil down to in the end.

      Again, I disagree. There seems to me a general rather confused mess over this issue, with people agreeing broad principles, but only because those principles are vague and largely undefined, and then we get into arguments whenever anyone tries to implement those principles.

      You gave a long list of religious accommodations from the U.K., most of which also were implemented in Canada. The idea that inadvertent intrusions on religion by laws requires accommodation seems to be broadly accepted, even in the U.S. (that’s why the Hobby Lobby case was even considered by the Supreme Court). That freedom of religion is a distinct right from that of equal protection is enshrined in most Constitutions, including that of the U.S. I could go on listing all the things that you think aren’t commonly accepted and that are improperly understood that seem to BE commonly accepted. You need to do more, then, than point to a few gray areas and say that there’s no actual agreement because things are defined too broadly … particularly since you actually want to appeal to a broader and more vague principle that requires more interpretation as well.

      Most US Supreme Court rulings agree with my interpretation. Take, for example, the Lemon Tests, and rulings such as Lee vs Weisman (1992) and Santa Fe vs Doe (2000).

      The Lemon Test is about the Establishment Clause, not about government officials having different rights than others. Lee vs Weisman is about coerced prayer; the students were forced to participate in the prayer, which is an issue (and holds for businesses as well). Santa Fe vs Doe is about the perception that even private and student-led prayer was seen as being endorsed by the school, and so didn’t refer to government officials. So, no, it still doesn’t say what you think it does.

      But I think looking at the Lemon Test will help things along here. I’ll give two summaries, the first from wikipedia, the second from usconstitution.net

      1. The statute must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religious affairs. (also known as the Entanglement Prong)
      1. Factors.
      1. Character and purpose of institution benefited.
      2. Nature of aid the state provides.
      3. Resulting relationship between government and religious authority.
      2. The statute must not advance nor inhibit religious practice (also known as the Effect Prong)
      3. The statute must have a secular legislative purpose. (also known as the Purpose Prong)

      And the second:

      Three … tests may be gleaned from our cases. First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.

      I argue from the first that if the effect is to inhibit religious practice, then it violates the Establishment Clause. I think you are relying on “principle or primary effect”, but if the law has a secular purpose then its primary effect CANNOT be to restrict religion, and so that part of the test would be meaningless. To try to preserve what I think the intent is there, let’s rephrase it to “DIRECT effect”, to ensure that you can’t invalidate a law or insist on accommodation because the impact comes through a chain of unforeseen and unforeseeable events; the law has to be putting in a restriction itself that impedes religion to count. So, looking at the Hobby Lobby case:

      If the law had said that the employers had to actually provide the birth control for their employees themselves — ie supply the condoms or pills — that would be directly impeding their religious practice — which forbids them from doing so — and so wouldn’t be allowed, even with the existing secular reasoning for the law. If, on the other hand, they merely have to sign a document that states their religious objections to providing it, that law does not directly restrict their practice because the impact is only indirect, as people are getting their birth control from an action that, by their religion, they can provide; it’s only the actions of others that are causing it here. For the insurance case, the question is whether it is a direct or indirect effect, as the law states that employers must provide insurance that meets the government standards, and the government standards include those things. I’d argue that it is indirect, and that Hobby Lobby should probably have lost that case.

      So, what’s wrong with this? Note that if you accept the Lemon Test at all, you cannot argue that it unduly privileges religion by treating it in a way that other philosophies don’t get, because that ship has already sailed: the Establishment Clause ALREADY treats religion differently. We just need to figure out how differently the EC — and freedom of religion — needs to treat religion in these cases.

      “Freedom of speech” has no status other than as a collective agreement. It is one that I fully support and regard as highly important, but it is not something imposed by some supra-human or objective standard.

      So if China refuses to consider it a right, that’s okay with you? Would you argue that they are wrong to not consider it a right?

      If you’re asking “are they right?” in a moral-realist sense, appealing to some objective supra-human standard to settle moral disputes, then my reply is that there is no such standard and that the question is misconceived.

      Actually, if you had read what I said, you’d note that I explicitly asked if you considered them to be AS RIGHT AS YOU WHO SAYS THERE IS. If there is no right answer, then the obvious answer there is “Yes”. Why, in both examples, did you avoid giving that answer?

    42. Coel Post author

      … if your opponent asks you why they should start from a certain position and you say that it’s just your own personal starting point, there’s no more debate to be had.

      But that’s not how I’d argue it. I’d start by arguing it on principles of equality, and I’d argue that society is best adopting such equality principles. However, if an opponent then pins me down by asking how I then justify *that*, then at some point I’m going to refer to my personal opinion as to what is best for society. Afterall, when it comes to moral principles, that is what it always comes down to.

      For moral subjectivists, they always tend to act as if there’s a RIGHT answer to a moral question, even though subjectivism denies that there is, in fact, any such answer.

      You are right to an extent, in that our whole language is moral-realist, and thus if one argues using the normal moral language, one can sound like a moral realist.

      You do that here with freedom of religion; you are trying to convince me that your answer is RIGHT, not merely that it is a good one or one that I should adopt.

      Well, I’ll clarify by saying that in my opinion it is the one that is best for society, and the one that I’d like everyone to adopt. More or less all moral discourse consists of people arguing that, whether they admit it or not!

      … if morality is not objective then it seems to me that morality is meaningless; if we cannot have an objective morality then we cannot have anything that looks at all like morality. Instead, we have laws, or social mores, or the like, but we don’t have morality as the term is actually used.

      Or, we just accept that morality is a term we use for social mores and the like, and that the hankering after objective status is misconceived.

      Do you have a better argument to defend your position here?

      I’ve written a few posts defending subjective morality, which I see as the only sensible position. Another argument against objective morality is that no-one has ever put forward a good proposal for what it even *means*.

      Um, but rights DO trump almost all collective agreements EXCEPT other rights, as your yourself conceded.

      No, I didn’t concede that. I said that *constitutional* collective agreements trump other collective agreements. Thus a constitutional church-state separation has the same status as a “right”.

      The Lemon Test is about the Establishment Clause, not about government officials having different rights than others.

      The Establishment clause limits government. That limit then applies to people acting with government authority.

      Santa Fe vs Doe is about the perception that even private and student-led prayer was seen as being endorsed by the school, and so didn’t refer to government officials.

      For such purposes, the schools, being paid for out of taxation, are treated as an arm of government. Thus the Establishment-clause restriction applies to them also. Thus the school, and people acting with school authority, does not have “religious freedom”.

      but if the law has a secular purpose then its primary effect CANNOT be to restrict religion, and so that part of the test would be meaningless. To try to preserve what I think the intent is there, let’s rephrase it to “DIRECT effect”, …

      The three prongs are not entirely independent. The wordings of the three prongs are intended to reinforce each other. So, no, I don’t agree with your re-wording.

      For example, a law against FGM has a secular purpose and is not primarily aimed at religion. But if, as a consequence, it outlaws the practices of a particular religious sect then that is just tough.

      So, looking at the Hobby Lobby case:

      Hobby Lobby was judged using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which in my opinion privileges religion and is unconstitutional. I’ve argued that here.

      So if China refuses to consider it a right, that’s okay with you?

      No, it’s not ok with me. I’d prefer that everyone adopt religious equality and religious freedom.

      Would you argue that they are wrong to not consider it a right?

      Yes, subjectively wrong.

      Actually, if you had read what I said, you’d note that I explicitly asked if you considered them to be AS RIGHT AS YOU WHO SAYS THERE IS. If there is no right answer, then the obvious answer there is “Yes”. Why, in both examples, did you avoid giving that answer?

      Answering “yes” to the question of whether that are “as right as you are”, implies that there is an objective means of judging moral “rightness” and that both score equally against that objective measure. That is the very opposite of what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that there is no objective measure of moral rightness, and thus that the question is ill-posed.

    43. verbosestoic

      Sorry it’s taken so long to get back to this; I’m having a bit of a hectic time right now and there’s a lot to say here.

      So let’s start with the big issue:

      I noticed that most of your posts are criticizing the U.K.’s religious accommodation, and that you yourself are in the U.K. The issue is that all of your arguments and examples are from the U.S., as you rely heavily on the Establishment Clause and US court decisions. But by what you say at the end of the post, that’s precisely what you CAN’T do: the social agreement in the U.S. does not in any way bind the U.K., Europe or Canada (where I am), and so you’d need something that applies to THEM in order to make your case. But the U.K. and Canada don’t have that sort of strict Church-State neutrality as part of their social agreement, so you can’t make that claim either.

      This wasn’t so much of an issue — which is why I ignored it for so long — as long as you’re making an objective argument. If you were arguing that there really was a societal-agreement-independent proper understanding of freedom of religion, then the worst you could be accused of was relying too much on authority, which I figured I could work around when we got into the details of the position. But now that your position is societal-agreement-dependent, then your arguments are, of course, going to be utterly irrelevant to the discussion; you cannot criticize the U.K. or Canada for following their own social agreements and not that of the U.S.

      This leaves you with one other option, to argue that societies will just work better if they adopt the U.S. model instead of the ones they have adopted. This means that you can only invoke the Establishment Clause to explain what you mean or want to see, not as a justification (which is what you’ve commonly done). But even worse, this seems to be a empirical statement that’s empirically FALSE. Europe and Canada have MUCH better relationships with religion than the U.S. does, and are also typically far more secular than the U.S. is. On almost every if not every factor that you could use to measure the relationship between the secular state and religion, they seem superior despite BOTH not having Church-State separation AND being far more accommodating than the U.S. is. So it doesn’t seem like the U.S. approach is better. In addition, as they’ve moved towards the U.S. approach the relationship and clashes between the secular state and religion have INCREASED, and so moving to that model doesn’t seem like a benefit.

      You can argue that the explanation for the increase in tension is just religious people not being willing to give up their privilege, and that might be true, but there are two issues with that response:

      1) As we’re in a situation where we’re assessing whether it would be better for society to go that way or not, you have to take that known reaction into account when assessing whether or not this is a good move.

      2) It may also be a legitimate reaction to what I’ve brought up before: how you seem to insist on treating religion precisely like everything else until it gets restricted, at which point it can nay MUST be treated differently. This, on top of claims that you can make a religion illegal by accident and not care, does not make it seem like the underlying “We’ll stay out of your religion” deal is being honoured.

      So, with all of this in mind … you need a clear argument for why you think places like the U.K. and Canada should adopt a U.S. style model, be that objective, subjective, or societal benefit.

      Now, onto morality:

      Let’s compare these two sections:

      You are right to an extent, in that our whole language is moral-realist, and thus if one argues using the normal moral language, one can sound like a moral realist.

      Or, we just accept that morality is a term we use for social mores and the like, and that the hankering after objective status is misconceived.

      My objection was that if we adopted your subjective model, it didn’t look like we were talking about “morality” anymore, meaning what people really do refer to when they are using that term, but instead something completely different. Here, you confirm that by both saying that when you have to use the regular moral language it sounds like you’re saying something objective, and then noting that your view ends up having to consider morality “social mores”, which we CLEARLY don’t do, as we have the moral-conventional distinction that is a known trait in psychology, and one that psychopaths typically fail while almost everyone else passes. So, no, when people talk about morality they are NOT talking about social mores, or laws, because we can describe clashes between morality and social mores and laws and have that make sense, not be seen as a contradiction in terms. Thus, what you call morality does not, in fact, seem to be what anyone ELSE calls morality, leaving you open to charges of equivocation (as social mores are obviously subjective, but if that’s not what people think of as morality, then you aren’t talking about the same thing they are).

      You can reply that you’re making the same move you make, as a compatibilist, wrt free will, and this would strike at me because I think that’s a valid move. The difference, though, is that I argue that you are indeed preserving what is important definitionally about free will — that it lets us make real decisions and choices — while dropping what was a conclusion from that, which is that it must be dualistic and can’t be deterministic. Here, though, that doesn’t seem to be the case; you really seem to be REDEFINING rather than REFINING it. I don’t see how you can boil down morality to social mores and get anything that looks at all like what people think of AS morality, let ALONE what they think is IMPORTANT about morality. So that line won’t work here; you’d need an argument showing that that is what morality really is, which I haven’t seen yet.

      Thus, my objection: if you reduce morality to something subjective, then you seem to reduce it to something that is not morality and, even if it was morality, wouldn’t explain why we should care about morality at all. And if you make that move, you had better have really strong evidence and arguments, and so far the most I’ve seen is “Well, we can’t seem to find an objective one, and people have different ideas of what is the right one, so there can’t be a right answer” which works for absolutely NO objective facts whatsoever.

      Another argument against objective morality is that no-one has ever put forward a good proposal for what it even *means*.

      I’m not sure what you’re looking for here, but here’s my definition of what it means for morality to be objective:

      There is a right answer to moral questions that does not depend on any person of group’s view of what is the right answer to the question. Thus, there is a right answer to the question “Is slavery morally wrong?” that does not depend on whether a person or society THINKS that slavery is morally wrong or not . Objective moralities may be situational in that the specific circumstances and even the beliefs of the person may matter to the answer given, and they may rely on specific subjective states of people — ie are they hurt or in pain or not — but overall, given all of the relevant details of the situation, a detached observer can determine what the right answer to a moral question is.

      Is this enough for you, or do you want something more?

      And clean-up:

      No, I didn’t concede that. I said that *constitutional* collective agreements trump other collective agreements. Thus a constitutional church-state separation has the same status as a “right”.

      It has the same status as a right because, by your — and everyone else’s — definition, it IS a right.

      The three prongs are not entirely independent. The wordings of the three prongs are intended to reinforce each other. So, no, I don’t agree with your re-wording.

      They are explicitly separate tests, and as I said under your interpretation it’s not mere overlap, but that the one I mentioned is EXTRANEOUS. And you’d still need to do more than say that to show that my rewording is not the reasonable and appropriate way to word that.

      For example, a law against FGM has a secular purpose and is not primarily aimed at religion. But if, as a consequence, it outlaws the practices of a particular religious sect then that is just tough.

      As previously pointed out, you can’t use FGM as your example because the models you are criticizing have a consistent way to outlaw things like FGM when appropriate, so we don’t need the Lemon Test to do that.

      Answering “yes” to the question of whether that are “as right as you are”, implies that there is an objective means of judging moral “rightness” and that both score equally against that objective measure.

      Or, alternatively, that there is no right answer and so they must all indeed be equally right and equally wrong. It seems that this would be a simpler answer than arguing that a perfectly standard question is “ill-posed” without confirming the point of the question, which was whether or not their view was equally valid to yours.

      Yes, subjectively wrong.

      Please explain to me how something can be “subjectively wrong” unless it is judged strictly by an appeal to the subject — in this case, the society — in question.

    44. Coel Post author

      Hi verbosestoic,

      So, with all of this in mind … you need a clear argument for why you think places like the U.K. and Canada should adopt a U.S. style model, …

      My argument is that: I’d prefer it. And that’s because it treats everyone equally, regardless of whether their opinions are “religious” or not, whereas your scheme gives greater weight to opinions that are “religious”, and thus treats religious views as more important. I consider that for the state to treat everyone equally would be a better way of doing things.

      Thus, my objection: if you reduce morality to something subjective, then you seem to reduce it to something that is not morality …

      I agree that most people regard morality as objective, but I consider that to be mistaken. If by “morality” people mean “objective morality”, then there is (I assert) no such thing. Subjective morality is the only sort of morality that does exist.

      … and, even if it was morality, wouldn’t explain why we should care about morality at all.

      You’re right, it doesn’t explain why we *should* care (whatever that means), but it is a fact that we *do* care. We have moral feelings, and that’s why we have moral discourse.

      And if you make that move, you had better have really strong evidence and arguments, …

      I think it follows pretty straightforwardly from an understanding of what humans are, as products of Darwinian evolution (and indeed Darwin explained this in Descent of Man).

      Thus, there is a right answer to the question “Is slavery morally wrong?” that does not depend on whether a person or society THINKS that slavery is morally wrong or not.

      Yes, that’s a good starting definition of “objective” morality, but it does not explain what objective morality *means*. According to that, it is then a true fact that: “slavery is morally wrong”.

      But what does “slavery is morally wrong” mean? Well, it means that you shouldn’t put people into slavery! But why shouldn’t you do it? Because it is morally wrong! One can go round that loop, but it doesn’t give a non-question-begging answer to what “slavery is morally wrong” actually means.

      Now, in my subjective account, I can say that if a speaker utters the phrase “slavery is morally wrong” then he is reporting that he dislikes slavery and wants to live in a society with no slavery. Thus I’ve explained what the sentence actually means.

      I’ve never encountered an equivalent explanation for the objective-morals case, and until that appears I regard objective morality as a non-starter.

      Or, alternatively, that there is no right answer and so they must all indeed be equally right and equally wrong. It seems that this would be a simpler answer than arguing that a perfectly standard question is “ill-posed” without confirming the point of the question, which was whether or not their view was equally valid to yours.

      If there is no “right answer” morally because the whole concept of applying truth values to moral claims is misconceived, then it DOES NOT follow that “they must all indeed be equally right and equally wrong”! What follows is that trying to attach such labels to moral claims is misconceived!

      If I were to ask “what colour is pride?”, “what colour is shame?”, then the answer is that applying “colour” labels to such things is misconceived. That IS NOT saying “pride is equally orange and equally violet and equally sea green”.

      Please explain to me how something can be “subjectively wrong” unless it is judged strictly by an appeal to the subject — in this case, the society — in question.

      Moral judgements are indeed made by people. A judgement that something is “subjectively wrong” amounts to that person declaring their dislike of it.

      But note that my “yes, subjectively wrong” was a reply to your question: “Would *you* argue that they are wrong to not consider it a right?” (added emphasis). The subject being appealed to in your question was *me*, not the society! I replied that in my subjective opinion it is wrong, which can be translated as the declaration “I dislike it”.

    45. verbosestoic

      My argument is that: I’d prefer it.

      1) Why is that an argument? Why should anyone be convinced by the fact that you want something to be a certain way, especially if they don’t?

      2) In line with my analysis, that means that, empirically, you’d seem to prefer a less secular society, where there are more clashes between the state and religion and, for example, where religions advocate to either insert religion into public speech or remove things like religion from it. It seems that by all reasonable standards the model you propose results in a much worse society wrt religion and the state than the alternative you are arguing against. Why, then, do you prefer it?

      And that’s because it treats everyone equally, regardless of whether their opinions are “religious” or not, whereas your scheme gives greater weight to opinions that are “religious”, and thus treats religious views as more important.

      1) Except your view DOESN’T treat religions like everything else. You explicitly treat religious opinions differently in order to restrict them for government officials. So that whole “religion should be treated like everything else” ship has already sailed; as I said, you are more than willing to RESTRICT religion and religious opinions, but seem strongly averse to EVER giving it any advantage.

      2) So, the case where you can say that my view privileges religions is that sometimes religious practices — or actions taken for the sake of religious practice — will get exemptions from laws where other reasons won’t. This, however, is very much a “sour grapes” argument. Let’s take the bicycle helmet case. You might not want to wear one because they mess up your hair. THEY, on the other hand, don’t want to wear one because it impedes their ability to practice their religion. Since we have indeed both agreed that impeding the ability to practice one’s religion is IN GENERAL bad — that’s why you don’t allow the state to just make a religion illegal — their need is far greater than yours, so it isn’t comparable. Your concern, even from the perspective of the secular state, is trivial, while theirs is crucial. So that you don’t get accommodation doesn’t mean that you are treated unfairly, as your need is clearly not as great as theirs is. And this follows from the definition of a secular state as per Blackford that we discussed earlier.

      You can argue, though, that if it impeded you from practicing a specific secular worldview, then it WOULD be comparable, which isn’t a bad argument. The problem here is that a secular state, as we’ve discussed, is not only ALLOWED to promote or restrict secular philosophies, but is in fact ENCOURAGED and may even have a DUTY to do so. Thus, if a secular law made for a good secular purpose restricts a secular philosophy, that’s not only not bad, but might even be GOOD. That cannot be said for religion, and if you want to, then your whole “Church-State Neutrality” line goes completely out the window, because you’d be arguing for the ability of the state to interfere with religion.

      Thus, there is no violation of equal protection here.

      You’re right, it doesn’t explain why we *should* care (whatever that means), but it is a fact that we *do* care. We have moral feelings, and that’s why we have moral discourse.

      But I’d argue that we care about and have moral feelings on the basis that morality is objective and that there is a right answer to moral questions. If, as you claim, there can only be subjective morality, then I say that we wouldn’t care about morality at all; morality would be reduced to the level of, say, favourite type of cake, to mere personal opinion. I don’t see any way for you to escape that conclusion, since if moral propositions really are matters of personal opinion — ie subjective — then we ought to argue that anyone who takes them as seriously as we do now is, in fact, making an error, like we would for people who, say, argue over what is the objectively best type of cake.

      I think it follows pretty straightforwardly from an understanding of what humans are, as products of Darwinian evolution (and indeed Darwin explained this in Descent of Man).

      This is the naturalistic fallacy, as you can’t look at how we got to the state of being moral agents to determine that that’s all being a moral agent is. You need to define what it means to be a moral agent before you know what aspects of human morality apply and which are errors that we need to correct — even if you’re right about morality being subjective, since our view that it is objective would be produced by the same mechanisms.

      Now, in my subjective account, I can say that if a speaker utters the phrase “slavery is morally wrong” then he is reporting that he dislikes slavery and wants to live in a society with no slavery. Thus I’ve explained what the sentence actually means.

      Except that all specific objective moralities can make similar statements:

      Utilitarianism: when I say that slavery is morally wrong, I mean slavery produces more unhappiness than happiness.

      Kantianism: when I say that slavery is morally wrong, I mean that it treats people merely as means, and not as ends in themselves.

      Stoicism: when I say that slavery is morally wrong, I mean that it violates reason and human nature as a rational animal and so is vicious.

      Egoism: when I say that slavery is morally wrong, I mean that it isn’t to my benefit.

      Theism (at least some forms): when I say that slavery is morally wrong, I mean that God disapproves of it.

      All of these can give perfectly fine responses that seem as valid as yours is. We just need to figure out which of these is the right one.

      But note that my “yes, subjectively wrong” was a reply to your question: “Would *you* argue that they are wrong to not consider it a right?” (added emphasis). The subject being appealed to in your question was *me*, not the society! I replied that in my subjective opinion it is wrong, which can be translated as the declaration “I dislike it”.

      The interesting thing to note here is that in the previous section you were harping on how it’s completely invalid to talk about “right” or “wrong” wrt morality, despite the fact that if you had simply done that it wouldn’t have been confusing at all, but HERE, where the terms “right” and “wrong” really matter, you blythely use them, and then have to note that you really mean “subjectively wrong”, when simply using that declaration “I dislike it” would have been more clear.

      The reason is that in the latter case, you can piggyback on the idea of right and wrong to give your opinion weight, while in the former case if you have to concede that they are all equally “right” then your opinion clearly has no special weight. So your relying on maintaining the term “right” in the latter case but insisting that it is misconceived in the former may well be you trying — not consciously — to buttress the latter statements while avoiding having to acknowledge the lack of force in the former cases. It’s something to think about, at any rate.

      Given this, I have no reason to be concerned at all if something is subjectively wrong when it is you who is the subject, at least in my view. Do you disagree with that? And how do you get from “subjectively wrong” to actually eliminating it from society if most people disagree with you?

    46. Coel Post author

      Why is that an argument?

      See the bit that followed those words. My argument is based on equality, the idea that governments should treat people equally regardless of religious opinion. That means: (1) the government itself should be neutral, neither promoting religious opinions nor anti-religious opinions. (2) People should not be treated more favourably nor less favourably by the government owing to their religious opinions, anti-religious opinions or absence of religious opinions.

      In line with my analysis, that means that, empirically, you’d seem to prefer a less secular society, …

      I don’t agree with your analysis; I regard the above as the very model of a secular society.

      You explicitly treat religious opinions differently in order to restrict them for government officials.

      Yes, in the sense that it is an area in which the government (and hence government officials) are instructed to stay neutral.

      you are more than willing to RESTRICT religion and religious opinions …

      Yes, in the acts and speech of the state, and with an equal restriction applying to anti-religious opinion.

      You might not want to wear one because they mess up your hair. THEY, on the other hand, don’t want to wear one because it impedes their ability to practice their religion.

      I would ask the state to rate both of those reasons equally.

      Since we have indeed both agreed that impeding the ability to practice one’s religion is IN GENERAL bad …

      No, as I see it, only religious **opinion** is protected, not religious *acts*.

      … that’s why you don’t allow the state to just make a religion illegal

      No, my reason for that is that the state could only directly make a religion illegal from an anti-religious motive, and that is not permitted to the state.

      … their need is far greater than yours, so it isn’t comparable.

      I 100% reject that analysis. I don’t see that following a religion creates a “need” any more than any other lifestyle choice, say the choice to have a weird hairdo that would be messed up by a helmet. To grant the religious motive greater weight would be a violation of secularism. Treating religious motives as having extra weight stems from the presumption that religion is a good thing, and thus should be privileged.

      Your concern, even from the perspective of the secular state, is trivial, while theirs is crucial.

      I disagree: they could simply change religion, just as one could change a hair style. And if anyone faints with horror, aghast at the suggestion that one could simply change religion so readily, that again comes from the presumption that religion is something special, a Big Deal, that Matters Alot. I don’t think the state should make that presumption, since it is a pro-religion viewpoint.

      … your need is clearly not as great as theirs is.

      I reject the unstated assumptions that underlie that “clearly”!

      If, as you claim, there can only be subjective morality, then I say that we wouldn’t care about morality at all; morality would be reduced to the level of, say, favourite type of cake, to mere personal opinion.

      But people do care about cake! Your word “favourite” directly contradicts the idea that we “wouldn’t care at all”!

      I don’t see any way for you to escape that conclusion …

      I don’t, I embrace it!

      we ought to argue that anyone who takes them as seriously as we do now is, in fact, making an error

      Well hold on, there is a difference between something being “subjective” and it being unimportant. Someone’s desire to spend the rest of their life with their spouse, or their love for their child, would be entirely subjective, but it could still be the most important thing in their lives.

      In fact, the *only* important things in our lives are our subjective qualia. Without them we would — quite literally — not care about anything. We’d be non-feeling zombies, totally a-moral. So yes, morals are subjective, but that doesn’t mean we should regard them as unimportant and not serious.

      … as you can’t look at how we got to the state of being moral agents to determine that that’s all being a moral agent is.

      I beg to differ. Why we come to have moral feelings tells us everything about what morals are.

      You need to define what it means to be a moral agent before you know what aspects of human morality apply and which are errors that we need to correct …

      The starting point should be human experience of our moral feelings. From there we should seek to understand the origin and nature of those feelings. That’s what evolution tells us.

      Utilitarianism: when I say that slavery is morally wrong, I mean slavery produces more unhappiness than happiness.

      But that is effectively defining “morally wrong” as a synonym for “unhappiness causing”, and thus gives you nothing that isn’t already within the concept of “unhappiness”. Thus it is not “objective morality”.

      In particular, your statement gives no reason why you ought not hold slaves. You would need to add in an additional axiom by fiat, which then rests only on your opinion, and is thus subjective. Thus it still doesn’t give you any account of “objective oughtness”, nor does it explain what “objective oughtness” would actually be. (I’d make a similar reply to your other examples, so this one suffices.)

      … simply using that declaration “I dislike it” would have been more clear.

      Yes, perhaps, fair comment. But all the language of moral discourse is moral realist in presumption, so if one uses the normal language one inevitably runs into that problem.

      So your relying on maintaining the term “right” in the latter case but insisting that it is misconceived in the former may well be you trying — not consciously — to buttress the latter statements while avoiding having to acknowledge the lack of force in the former cases. It’s something to think about, at any rate.

      I actually agree! And this is exactly my explanation — as stated in other posts — for why evolution has programmed us with the illusion of moral realism. It’s a cheap trick to make our moral system seem to matter more and so be more effective!

      Given this, I have no reason to be concerned at all if something is subjectively wrong when it is you who is the subject, at least in my view.

      Granted, you have no particular reason to be concerned with the opinion of any lone or few other individuals. As a matter of practicalities, you do have every reason to be concerned with opinions widespread in the society around you.

      And how do you get from “subjectively wrong” to actually eliminating it from society if most people disagree with you?

      Either: (1) be an exceptionally good persuader, or (2) you can’t — c’est la vie.

    47. verbosestoic

      See the bit that followed those words.

      Since I replied in much DETAIL to that bit, it’s a bit odd of you to ask me to do that, and this will become especially ironic when I get back to the conceptual comment where you made a guess about what my view of the concept would be … and ignored that I outlined stuff like that in detail right after that.

      Anyway, the point here is to highlight that ever saying “I’d like it better this way!” is never an argument worth taking seriously in any discussion, and so there is no point in ever raising it. At best, you should actually make the stronger argument that in your opinion society will be better off if we do that, which when we dig down to it is the argument that you always at least TRY to make when we discuss these things. Thus, as argued before, reverting to personal preference almost always suggests that you can’t find any argument that has broader appeal, but that argument really is something that everyone you’re arguing with will just shrug off unless you can tie it back to the overall benefit of society in general.

      I don’t agree with your analysis; I regard the above as the very model of a secular society.

      In order to disagree here, you’d have to actually directly discuss and refute the empirical evidence I provided: the U.S. is the country that actually DOES do what you claim — strong separation of Church and State and limited accommodation — and the relationship between the state and the Church there is worse than those that are more accommodating and don’t have as stringent separation. Also, AS states move towards that stronger model, the relationship between the state and the Church worsens. Also, the U.S. is far less secular than the comparable states. Given this, it’s hard to see how you could consider that sort of approach SUPERIOR in terms of secularity, as all of the empirical evidence is against it.

      For someone so insistent on empirical evidence, it is quite ironic that you seem to have studiously ignored it the one time I DID bring it up [grin].

      Yes, in the sense that it is an area in which the government (and hence government officials) are instructed to stay neutral.

      If you are basing this on equal protection, the government CANNOT be instructed to violate equal protection and treat a particular group differently. Take the same-sex marriage debate. Many locales actually HAD marriage defined EXPLICITLY as being between a man and a woman, and some of those added it due to referendums, all of which would count as the state being “instructed” to do that, but it didn’t work against a claim that equal protection was being violated. Even if the “instruction” was in the Constitution, it wouldn’t work. For example, if we are basing our argument on equal protection between men and women and the Constitution — or equivalent — stated explicitly that only men are allowed to vote, we wouldn’t conclude that it was okay, then, that women can’t vote because the state was “instructed” not to do that, but at a minimum conclude that there was a contradiction there, and likely conclude that the Constitution was wrong and had to be changed.

      The only way to get around this is to argue that there is a significant difference that means that you have to treat the cases differently. For example, there at least used to be a “Choice for Men” movement, that argued that because women can decide to get abortions strictly because they don’t want to have to financially support the resulting child, that men should also get a similar accommodation. We know that it would violate the rights of the woman to allow men to force them to get an abortion, but an argument against the common “signed agreement absolving them of responsibility” argument is that the circumstances are significantly different in the sense that if a woman gets an abortion, there is no child to support, but that if the man just signs the agreement, there is still a child to support, and so from the state and the mother’s perspective his choice would create a burden that hers does not. I’m not getting into which arguments are right or wrong here, but noting that here they can argue that equal protection doesn’t apply because the circumstances are sufficiently different.

      For the religion case, I think we’d want to go back to the Blackford argument to find our difference: the secular state has no interest in and no knowledge of otherworldly concerns, being strictly concerns with THIS worldly concerns. Religion, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly is not solely concerns with otherworldly concerns. Thus, the state ought not interfere in the otherworldly concerns of its citizens — having no interest and no expertise in that matter by definition — and religions ought not interfere in the THIS worldly concerns of its citizens, as that’s not its goal.

      From this, we get Church-State separation directly: the state ought not advocate for or against specific religious opinions, and government officials ought not express their religious opinions in a manner that suggests that that is the STATE’S opinion on religion. So we get the separation you want, but then have the issue that because the conditions for the otherworld often rely on actions taken in this one, there is overlap where there shouldn’t be. How do we handle that? I argue that the same principle should hold as far as it can: the state interferes with religion, no matter how noble its secular purposes ONLY WHEN IT HAS TO, and the same thing applies to religion, which allows us to say that religious sermons ought not take political positions, and only have an impact on that if they are indeed instructing people directly in how to life as members of that religion.

      Note the important thing here is that, given this, religions are different than things like haircuts, and so can’t be treated the same way. The state can indeed promote specific haircuts without violating anything other than, maybe, the feelings of people who want that haircut. But haircuts are a this worldly concern, not an otherworldly concern, and are treated accordingly. As we’ve seen, religion is not.

      No, as I see it, only religious **opinion** is protected, not religious *acts*.

      We’ve been over this already: religious acts count as religious opinion, even to you. So this is a distinction that you’ve already dismissed, as you don’t allow government officials to ACT religiously when acting as government officials either.

      Treating religious motives as having extra weight stems from the presumption that religion is a good thing, and thus should be privileged.

      No, as pointed out above, it follows from the presumption that a secular state itself ought have no opinion on it, but otherworldly concerns do indeed matter to people. There is no judgement that religious opinion on what the otherworld is is better or worse, just that it’s an opinion that a secular state ought not have. Thus, when the secular state interferes with the personal opinion of a person on otherworldly matters, they always risk overstepping their bounds and authority. This works for both the religious and non-religious, except that it’s hard to think of any example here a state law could inadvertently stop the non-religious from following their non-religious principles, while that is easily the case for religious people. In short, as we say in the abortion case, non-religious opinions don’t get accommodation because they never NEED them. Typically, that haircut isn’t in any way expressing a non-religious or anti-religious view; it’s just a haircut. That is not true for the turban in the case you cited.

      Thus, yes, it IS more important, as religion — and non-religion — are in fact the way one approaches the otherworld, if one believes there really is one. This is something that a) clearly matters a lot to a lot of people and b) is NOT something a secular state can interfere with since that isn’t the job of the secular state. We have very good reasons to consider the religious violation more of an issue, and if you want to argue against that you STILL need a way to distinguish religious opinion from haircut opinion so you can tell government officials that they can express the latter but not the former.

      I disagree: they could simply change religion, just as one could change a hair style.

      As seen above, a secular state cannot simply say “Change your religion if you don’t like the law”, because that would be it imposing an otherworldly opinion on people; it would be either saying that the religion that the law violates is the wrong/undesirable one, or that it doesn’t matter at all which view you have. These are not opinions that the SECULAR STATE can promote (although secular/non-religious PEOPLE can hold and express them). Nor, by your logic, could government OFFICIALS ever promote that opinion.

      Also, your argument is dangerously close to “Homosexuals can marry any person of the opposite sex they want, so why should they complain?”. As religion is a protected group, that argument doesn’t fly, while you must note that “likes a certain haircut” is NOT a protected group under equal protection. And if you want to remove religion as an explicit group there, then you can’t start from the basis of equal protection, and so your whole argument collapses.

      But people do care about cake! Your word “favourite” directly contradicts the idea that we “wouldn’t care at all”!

      If morality is reduced to that level, we have no reason to care about IT at all. What does it add? Saying that you think slavery is morally wrong to someone who thinks it is ends up being the same sort of comment at “My favourite flavour of cake is chocolate!” vs someone who says “My favourite flavour of cake is vanilla!”. While people may argue vehemently over this, most people realize that it is stupid to do so, and that only fanatics really DO argue like that. This is NOT an opinion that we can hold for slavery. All you are left with is arguing that, for example, society would be BETTER off if we didn’t have slavery, but we can actually already do that for the questions that we consider moral — and come up with ideas that maybe the immoral answer is the one that is best for society — and so there seems to be no reason to add the “Slavery is morally wrong!” argument in the first place. And if you DEFINE morality as being that which most benefits society, then you are creating a DEFINITION of morality. If that definition is subjective, then it cycles back to the original complaint: you need to appeal to something other than morality with people who don’t happen to agree with you, so saying that it’s morally wrong adds nothing at all. Alternatively, you can make the moral argument meaningful by appealing to that definition as being the RIGHT one … but that makes it objective in the sense that people think morality is objective, and so your subjectivist argument fails.

      In short, it cycles back to the first point in the comment: if morality is just your personal opinion, no one need care about it and it doesn’t work as an argument, meaning that you might as well drop that argument and rely only on the arguments that aren’t merely personal opinion.

      I beg to differ. Why we come to have moral feelings tells us everything about what morals are.

      Naturalistic fallacy. It also suggests that psychopaths and autistics — who both reason morally quite differently from those who are not — are either completely and equally correct in their reasoning, or that somehow their physical differences make them “wrong” even though you have no standard to appeal to to demonstrate that they are wrong in their moral reasoning. If the former, you make morality meaningless. If the latter, you are smuggling in an objective standard that you have no justified.

      Also, we know that evolution can get things wrong. See, for example, the sweet tooth. How do we determine what things in morality are real and what are evolutionary mistakes? Or do we just trust what evolution has given us, which may include — in at least some people — tendencies to commit rape and murder, for example?

      But that is effectively defining “morally wrong” as a synonym for “unhappiness causing”, and thus gives you nothing that isn’t already within the concept of “unhappiness”. Thus it is not “objective morality”.

      Um, first, it gives you far more than that, since it says that these actions are “wrong” in a particular way because THEY PRODUCE MORE UNHAPPINESS THAN HAPPINESS. It thus specifies THE CRITERIA by which one determines what is indeed morally right and morally wrong. If that’s not what you wanted, then I have NO idea what you’re asking for, unless it’s a reason for you to CARE about being moral, which is a) not what you asked for and b) is not a requirement for an objective morality. This is also odd since your view which supposedly can say what it means for something to be moral, reduces in the same way to “I dislike it” and/or “I don’t want this in society”, which is no better an answer, and so given this I ought to conclude that you don’t know what morality means under your subjective account either.

      In particular, your statement gives no reason why you ought not hold slaves. You would need to add in an additional axiom by fiat, which then rests only on your opinion, and is thus subjective.

      Oops, yes, you’re on about motivationism here. The reason objective morality, in general, gives for why one ought not keep slaves is that it is morally wrong — as demonstrated, if objective morality was established, by the objective reasons demonstrating that — and that a moral person, then, wouldn’t want to do that. If you insist, then, that you don’t see any reason to actually act morally, I fail to see why it’s a problem for what objective morality MEANS if it can’t provide that. You CAN argue that if it doesn’t give you any reason to want to be moral, then that’s a flaw with morality as a whole, but I can reply that if you want to consider yourself an amoral person there’s really nothing that morality can do to stop you. It’s not the job of an objective morality to make you WANT to be moral, but instead to tell you what you have to do IF you want to be moral. If you don’t want to be a moral person, then that’s fine … but then you are an amoral or even immoral person. It’s not a proof that morality must really be subjective, or an indication of a flaw in the objective morality definition itself.

      Yes, perhaps, fair comment. But all the language of moral discourse is moral realist in presumption, so if one uses the normal language one inevitably runs into that problem.

      Well, the ACTUAL comment was that you blythely used that language in the case where it WOULD be confusing, and strongly refused to even consider the question asked in that language when I would have known what you meant. The case where you so avoided using that language was where it would make it clear that the moral viewpoints of others had, at least to them, the same validity as yours, and the case where you used it was when it let you maintain the idea that you had a more valid moral opinion than the others. Thus, it’s something you ought to look out for in your reasoning, as one of the major issues with subjective morality is how they proceed as if they are right and still morally superior to others who disagree with them despite insisting that there really is no “more right” answer to moral questions.

      I actually agree! And this is exactly my explanation — as stated in other posts — for why evolution has programmed us with the illusion of moral realism. It’s a cheap trick to make our moral system seem to matter more and so be more effective!

      And if we know this, shouldn’t we drop the illusion and go straight to the other arguments that we need here to be convincing? After all, standing on moral superiority when you want to impose your own views on people — or at least get them to take your stance on it — while rejecting it wholeheartedly when others are trying to convince you of theirs is intellectually dishonest and not conducive to proper reasoning.

      As a matter of practicalities, you do have every reason to be concerned with opinions widespread in the society around you.

      But the concept of morality that we’re working with insists that just because a lot of people think something is morally right, doesn’t mean that it is or that we should accept it. Do you want to impose the moral views of the majority on everyone?

      Either: (1) be an exceptionally good persuader, or (2) you can’t — c’est la vie.

      So, ponder this for an instant:

      Slavery is considered morally right in this society. I think it is morally wrong, but I haven’t been able to convince people to change that. C’est la vie.

      Do you think this is a reasonable statement to make about slavery?

    48. Coel Post author

      Anyway, the point here is to highlight that ever saying “I’d like it better this way!” is never an argument worth taking seriously in any discussion, …

      Granted, but when it comes down to it (absent any moral-realist principles that we “ought” to obey), all there is is people’s preferences, people’s attempts to persuade each other, and collective agreements driving from that. I’m not presenting “I prefer it” as an argument, I’m merely answering your question about the ultimate basis for my arguments.

      If I were trying to persuade someone I’d base my arguments on principles of equality.

      At best, you should actually make the stronger argument that in your opinion society will be better off if we do that, …

      But the only measure of whether a society is “better off” is in terms of what people prefer. So, again, it comes down to that. But, again, I’m only pointing this out because you’re asking. It is not the argument that I’d use, which is about equality.

      … the U.S. is the country that actually DOES do what you claim …

      I don’t think we have adequate control experiments to make your comparison. The U.S. has a highly secular constitution but a highly religious populace. The UK, to pick a comparison, has a religious constitution but a highly secular populace. As I see it, the faults of the U.S. are due to the religiosity of the people, not any faults of the constitution.

      If you are basing this on equal protection, …

      I’m not. My two principles: (1) government stay neutral on religion and not have opinions about it, and (2) government treat everyone equally regardless of religion, are my starting points.

      … the Blackford argument …: the secular state has no interest in and no knowledge of otherworldly concerns, being strictly concerns with THIS worldly concerns.

      Yes, I concur with that.

      … because the conditions for the otherworld often rely on actions taken in this one, there is overlap where there shouldn’t be. How do we handle that? I argue that the same principle should hold as far as it can: the state interferes with religion, no matter how noble its secular purposes ONLY WHEN IT HAS TO, …

      I disagree. I maintain that the state should simply regulate the worldly/secular domain for worldly/secular reasons — and simply ignore any consequences for religions or the “otherwordly”.

      Thus, as I’ve said, “religious freedom” covers speech and opinions, but not acts. Acts are in the worldly domain, and the state can regulate those provided it is doing so for secular reasons.

      … the same thing applies to religion, which allows us to say that religious sermons ought not take political positions, …

      I have no problem with religious sermons taking political opinions. I only have a problem with tax-exempt organisations getting into politics. (But then I would not give tax exemption for religious activity at all.)

      … religious acts count as religious opinion, even to you.

      No they don’t!

      So this is a distinction that you’ve already dismissed, as you don’t allow government officials to ACT religiously when acting as government officials either.

      That’s because of the specific instruction on governments to stay neutral. Citizens have free expression and free religious expression; the government does not.

      As seen above, a secular state cannot simply say “Change your religion if you don’t like the law”, because that would be it imposing an otherworldly opinion on people; …

      The state doesn’t say that. It simply says: “the law is there for a good and agreed secular reason, obey it”.

      If morality is reduced to that level, we have no reason to care about IT at all.

      “Morality” is a word we use to refer to certain feelings that we have about how people treat each other. We do have reason to care about our feelings. Our feelings matter to us. Other people’s feelings can matter to us.

      What does it add?

      It does not add anything, beyond being a reference to human feelings. That idea is the whole red-herring of moral realism.

      Alternatively, you can make the moral argument meaningful by appealing to that definition as being the RIGHT one …

      Well you could, if you managed to come up with a conception of moral realism that makes the slightest sense, which no philosopher ever has.

      if morality is just your personal opinion, no one need care about it …

      Morality is also about other people’s opinions and feelings, which is why they also care about it.

      and it doesn’t work as an argument, meaning that you might as well drop that argument and rely only on the arguments that aren’t merely personal opinion.

      That is exactly how it works! People slap the label “moral” on whatever they want to argue for anyway, as a way of bigging-up their claim.

      Naturalistic fallacy.

      It is not the naturalistic fallacy, since I am not deriving “ought” statements from it.

      It also suggests that psychopaths and autistics — who both reason morally quite differently from those who are not — are either completely and equally correct in their reasoning, or that somehow their physical differences make them “wrong” even though you have no standard …

      Saying that it is a conceptual error to apply truth labels such as “correct” or “wrong” to moral claims IS NOT applying truth labels to moral claims! Moral anti-realism makes no such application of labels!

      How do we determine what things in morality are real and what are evolutionary mistakes?

      Your question assumes moral realism. I am arguing that that is a conceptual error.

      It thus specifies THE CRITERIA by which one determines what is indeed morally right and morally wrong. If that’s not what you wanted, then I have NO idea what you’re asking for, …

      I’m not asking for the criteria by which we determine what is “morally right” or “morally wrong”, I’m asking what those phrases even *mean*.

      If you say that “morally right” means “promotes happiness” and thus that the criteria for determining what is “morally right” is whether it “promotes happiness”, then all you’ve done is produce a synonym for “promotes happiness”. You haven’t added anything to it. I’m asking what you think that the concept “moral” **adds** to the concept “promotes happiness”.

      … your view which supposedly can say what it means for something to be moral, reduces in the same way to “I dislike it” and/or “I don’t want this in society”, which is no better an answer, …

      I agree, but then I’m admitting that! I’m *accepting* that there is nothing more to morality than human feelings on the matter. That’s fine and sufficient for a subjective account. But it does not suffice for objective moral realism.

      I ought to conclude that you don’t know what morality means under your subjective account either.

      It’s a synonym for “I dislike it” or “I don’t want this in society”.

      The reason objective morality, in general, gives for why one ought not keep slaves is that it is morally wrong …

      Ok, but what does “morally wrong” mean as used there? Explaining “morally wrong” in terms of .. err .. “morally wrong” isn’t all that helpful. Explaining it as “you ought not do it” is also not helpful if, were I to ask what “you ought not do it” meant, you were to give the answer that it is “morally wrong”.

      … as demonstrated, if objective morality was established, by the objective reasons demonstrating that — and that a moral person, then, wouldn’t want to do that.

      This smells suspiciously circular. Let me guess, if they did want to do it then they would not be a moral person? In which case you are again explaining what “moral” means in terms of the word “moral”, which again isn’t all that useful.

      And if we know this, shouldn’t we drop the illusion and go straight to the other arguments that we need here to be convincing?

      Yes! This would suit me.

      So, ponder this for an instant: Slavery is considered morally right in this society. I think it is morally wrong, but I haven’t been able to convince people to change that. C’est la vie. Do you think this is a reasonable statement to make about slavery?

      Yes, it is entirely reasonable. (Though I’m not sure that “reasonableness” is quite the criterion to apply here.) It’s much how Wilberforce would have felt.

      Your statement would translate to: “Most people in this society like and accept slavery. I, however, dislike it. However I have not been able to persuade other people to dislike it and so change it. C’est la vie”.

    49. verbosestoic

      I’m not presenting “I prefer it” as an argument, I’m merely answering your question about the ultimate basis for my arguments.
      If I were trying to persuade someone I’d base my arguments on principles of equality.

      If you check back, you’ll see that I was asking you to give a clear argument to persuade people that you were right, and your first statement as, literally “My argument is that I’d prefer it”. Yes, I already know that you’re a relativist, but what argument are you going to use to convince all of those people who disagree with you that you’re right?

      So, if you could, if you ever find yourself wanting to assert “I just want this to be the case!”, please stop and consider that if I’m asking the question, I don’t find that answer in any way to be a convincing counter there.

      Moving on:

      But the only measure of whether a society is “better off” is in terms of what people prefer. So, again, it comes down to that.

      I think we can make SOME broad claims, though, about what societies will be better or worse given common goals. At the very least, you keep asserting that we can. Thus, you should be focusing on doing that instead of, say, appealing to either personal preference or the preference of the majority. Since you’re a strong consequentialist in a lot of ways and insist on empirical evidence, it seems reasonable to ask you what actual effects you think using your view will have, and why you think they’re better than the effects of keeping the original one in place. And specific effects, mind you, because you yourself won’t appeal to a general right if the effects of applying it in this case are hugely detrimental.

      I don’t think we have adequate control experiments to make your comparison. The U.S. has a highly secular constitution but a highly religious populace. The UK, to pick a comparison, has a religious constitution but a highly secular populace. As I see it, the faults of the U.S. are due to the religiosity of the people, not any faults of the constitution.

      To make this claim work, you’d have to assert that the U.S. STARTED out more religious than the U.K. before it adopted its Constitution. But the fact that its Constitution IS more secular works against that. You can also compare it to Canada and have to argue that the U.S. is more religious than Canada was when it adopted its attitude, which doesn’t make sense. There are, of course, a number of factors but it seems fairly reasonable to say that based on the evidence we have it’s pretty likely that aggressive approaches add TO that attitude and move the culture away from secularism, especially since we can see that as more countries adopt the conflict approach THEY have more conflicts and religion becomes more important (again, see Canada). So we have enough empirical evidence to at least suggest a link there, which ought to be enough to get you to consider that maybe your approach isn’t a good one.

      I’m not. My two principles: (1) government stay neutral on religion and not have opinions about it, and (2) government treat everyone equally regardless of religion, are my starting points.

      2) trumps 1). You can’t put 1) first and say that we have to consider 1) EVEN IF it violates equal protection. The state cannot be instructed to treat people unequally, nor can it use such instruction as an excuse to treat them unequally. Thus, if the neutrality violates equal protection, then it cannot be maintained. Thus, the discussion has to be over equal protection first and foremost.

      And equal protection applies to government officials as well.

      I maintain that the state should simply regulate the worldly/secular domain for worldly/secular reasons — and simply ignore any consequences for religions or the “otherwordly”.

      So, here let me get down to brass tacks, and two main arguments about how religious accommodation is demanded by this policy we’re adopting:

      1) I’ve alluded to this before, but you agree that the state cannot ban a religion or a critical religious practice because of its religious nature. Given this, we ALSO have to avoid the state coming up with a purported secular reason as an EXCUSE to ban an unpopular — or perhaps too popular — religion. Thus, it also has to avoid the APPEARANCE that it’s making up an excuse to target that religion. The less critical the secular purpose, the more it looks like the real reason is to target the religion, not to actually fulfill the secular purpose. This is especially true if there are easy ways to at least mostly fulfill the secular purpose AND allow the religious practice (so, cases like peyote for religious rituals, for example). All of this requires accommodation; you allow the religious use except in cases where the secular purpose is both absolutely critical and also cannot be fulfilled without eliminating the religious practice as well. FGM, for example, aims at protecting women from harm done to them without their consent AND that protection cannot be achieved without at least eliminating the practice for children. The bike helmet issue, however, is just an issue of general safety and can mostly be achieved by having everyone else did this. As you already consider religion to be a special case, you can’t appeal to unequal treatment here; the justification for accommodation in this case is the same as your justification for the state not expressing religious opinions.

      2) Under equal protection, we have the case of “disproportionate impact”. A law can be considered to violate equal protection if it has a disproportionate impact on a protected group, even if the INTENT of the law is not to have that impact. Typically, in such cases the law gets overturned, but because in general laws that impact religious only impact a narrow subset of people and cases accommodation is the better approach. For example, taking the bike helmet case again, forcing them to put aside their headgear when their religion forbids it has a disproportionate impact on that religion, and religious beliefs are protected under equal protection. That is NOT the case for someone who doesn’t want to mess up their hair; that view is NOT protected under equal protection. Thus, under equal protection, if a law has a disproportionate impact on a protected group, something must be done, and accommodation is the best way to both comply with equal protection AND with the secular purpose. The only way around this is to either add “don’t want my hair messed up” to equal protection, or remove religion FROM equal protection. The former will make having any laws impossible, and the latter will remove your justification for Church-State Neutrality. Either way, you won’t win.

      Let’s move on to morality:

      “Morality” is a word we use to refer to certain feelings that we have about how people treat each other. We do have reason to care about our feelings. Our feelings matter to us. Other people’s feelings can matter to us.

      If those feelings aren’t pointing us to true propositions, why should we care about them? Why shouldn’t we, instead, say that we must eliminate these outdated feelings that make us THINK that morality is objective and meaningful like we should eliminate or limit our sweet tooth? If I have no way of validating whether my feelings are suggesting right or wrong behaviours, why trust them? Why care about them?

      For things like favourite flavour of cake, we allow for them because we don’t CARE if they’re right, and it is utterly unimportant if we are. The only feelings we have and rationally allow are ones that guide me precisely towards what _I_ want a particular time. But we don’t try to impose that on anyone else, and we generally think it ridiculous to try. That’s NOT how we treat morality. We treat morality like statements like “Slavery is morally wrong” HAVE an objective truth value. If they don’t, as you assert, then we have no need and no use for them; they don’t actually express anything, unlike statements like “I decide to take vanilla over chocolate cake”, which still have a meaning.

      It does not add anything, beyond being a reference to human feelings. That idea is the whole red-herring of moral realism.

      If it doesn’t add anything, why still talk about it? Because you CLEARLY still want to make moral claims and references and use the language even though you accept that it’s meaningless. What sort of language do you think we really ought to use when talking about morality, and why is that language truly moral at all? How do we distinguish moral emotions from non-moral ones?

      That is exactly how it works! People slap the label “moral” on whatever they want to argue for anyway, as a way of bigging-up their claim.

      Thus, if it really is meaningless, we should resist that attachment, and in fact resist ANY sort of moral judgement at all. Which hardly fits in with your comment that it is justified and defined by evolution; it becomes the sweet tooth. If that’s where you want to go, that’s fine, but note that if you EVER make a moral claim, I’m now free to dismiss it as a dishonest attempt to appeal to emotion in order to get me to side with you, as opposed to a rational argument that we need to settle.

      It is not the naturalistic fallacy, since I am not deriving “ought” statements from it.

      Sure it is. You are saying that what we happen to CONSIDER moral is what being morally really IS. Whether that fits the formal naturalistic fallacy or not, it’s the same error: looking at how things are and claiming that therefore that is how they OUGHT to be. In this case, looking at the conclusions that our evolved emotions lead us to and insisting that they are the right conclusions just because they are the ones that we hold.

      Saying that it is a conceptual error to apply truth labels such as “correct” or “wrong” to moral claims IS NOT applying truth labels to moral claims! Moral anti-realism makes no such application of labels!

      You still are getting WAY too hung up on labels. The point is this: either the moral feelings and assessments of autistics and psychopaths are equally as valid and reasonable for them to hold and act on as yours are, or else they aren’t and there’s an objective standard you can appeal to to show that their moral feelings are deficient and maladaptive in some way. So which is it?

      I’m not asking for the criteria by which we determine what is “morally right” or “morally wrong”, I’m asking what those phrases even *mean*.

      It seems like you’re asking me to reduce the concept of morality to another concept so that you can swap the two concepts in and out and mean the same thing. To do that would be to eliminate morality as a separate concept. Morality is its own concept, that we can only seek to understand but not reduce to other concepts. Thus, I don’t claim that what it really “means” to be moral is that it produces happiness in such a way that you can take the phrase “Slavery is immoral” and “Slavery produces less happiness” and have then mean THE SAME THING. Once we understand the concept of morality — ie its conceptual properties — then we know how to determine if an action is moral and immoral, and that criteria MIGHT be “produces the most happiness”. But the two terms will NEVER be identical in that way.

      The reason I claim that your view makes morality meaningless is PRECISELY because it reduces the concept of morality to “My own preference”, such that you can use the latter at any time when you would use the term “moral”. And that means that we ought not use the term “moral” at all anymore.

      Explaining it as “you ought not do it” is also not helpful if, were I to ask what “you ought not do it” meant, you were to give the answer that it is “morally wrong”.

      But I don’t. I say “If you want to be moral, you ought to do this. If you choose not to do that, you are at best amoral and at worst immoral”. I don’t need to justify or define morality any further, assuming that we actually decide what the concept of morality shakes out to. It’s not that we ought to act morally because it produces the most happiness, but that we ought to act morally because we value morality in and of itself. You’re in the position of at least being potentially being told what it means to be moral, and then asking “Why should I want to be moral?”, except that you’re using that to attack the CONCEPT instead of your own motivation to act in accordance with that concept. That’s not a reasonable demand.

      This smells suspiciously circular. Let me guess, if they did want to do it then they would not be a moral person?

      It’s not circular. It’s an iff: A person is a a moral person iff they act morally. What we need to do — and what I’ve always admitted we need to do — is determine what it really means to act morally. This will not simply appeal to “morality”, but it won’t reduce morality to another concept either. Morality will always be a distinct concept that we explain by discussing the various conceptual properties … even if it ends up being subjective.

      Your statement would translate to: “Most people in this society like and accept slavery. I, however, dislike it. However I have not been able to persuade other people to dislike it and so change it. C’est la vie”.

      Most people don’t. They think that the other people are, in fact, morally wrong. Given this, a) if you ever express moral outrage at something everyone ought to ignore that and b) you are really risking talking about something different from what everyone else talks about when you talk about morality, as we’ve already seen in this discussion.

    50. Coel Post author

      If you check back, you’ll see that I was asking you to give a clear argument to persuade people that you were right, …

      Getting a bit pedantic here, but your question didn’t include the words “… argument to persuade people”, I interpreted it as a question about the ultimate basis for why I was arguing that we “should” adopt the policy I advocate.

      There are, of course, a number of factors but it seems fairly reasonable to say that based on the evidence we have it’s pretty likely that aggressive approaches add TO that attitude and move the culture away from secularism, …

      I really don’t think we have enough “control experiments” to say that. France, for example, has adopted a more aggressive secularism than either the UK or the USA, but that has not produced a backlash making it more religious. As I see it, the more religious a population is the more problems there are over church/state separation.

      The state cannot be instructed to treat people unequally, nor can it use such instruction as an excuse to treat them unequally.

      The state can indeed treat government agents less equally when they are acting as government agents. Thus the government can restrict the speech of someone acting as a government agent in a way that it could not do regarding a common citizen.

      As I see it, government neutrality over religion is a doctrine of equal standing, or perhaps even greater standing, to the government treating people equally regardless of religion. Indeed you could regard the latter as a necessary consequence of the former.

      I’ve alluded to this before, but you agree that the state cannot ban a religion or a critical religious practice because of its religious nature.

      Agreed. The state cannot object to the religious nature of an activity.

      Given this, we ALSO have to avoid the state coming up with a purported secular reason as an EXCUSE to ban an unpopular — or perhaps too popular — religion.

      Yes, agreed. The secular reason must be real, not just an excuse.

      Thus, it also has to avoid the APPEARANCE that it’s making up an excuse to target that religion. The less critical the secular purpose, the more it looks like the real reason is to target the religion, not to actually fulfill the secular purpose.

      This is where I start getting dubious about your reasoning. I don’t see that the state needs to pussy-foot around religious considerations or take extra care to avoid trampling on them. That in itself would be a privilege for religion, and the state should not privilege religion. So long as the secular motive is indeed the reason for a law, to me that is sufficient.

      2) Under equal protection, we have the case of “disproportionate impact”.

      But I’m dubious about this whole doctrine of “equal protection”. That’s why, instead, I start from government neutrality.

      For example, taking the bike helmet case again, forcing them to put aside their headgear when their religion forbids it has a disproportionate impact on that religion, and religious beliefs are protected under equal protection.

      This is the sort of reasoning that I reject. I do not accept that “religious beliefs are protected under equal protection”. What I do maintain is that the state should stay neutral over religion.

      One can only establish a “disproportionate impact” if one evaluates and quantifies the value of religious doctrines and the harm of religious acts being prohibited. I don’t think that the state should make any such evaluations.

      The only way around this is to either add “don’t want my hair messed up” to equal protection, or remove religion FROM equal protection.

      Yes, and I’d do the latter. I don’t see why religious beliefs should be any more protected than any other beliefs. That doctrine is itself a privilege for a religious belief. (And note that this is not the same as sex, race, sexuality or other characteristics, which are not beliefs)

      the latter will remove your justification for Church-State Neutrality.

      I am NOT basing church-state neutrality on equal protection. State neutrality over religion is my *starting* *point*.

      On morality:

      If those feelings aren’t pointing us to true propositions, why should we care about them?

      There is no reason why we “should” care about them (whatever that is supposed to mean), but the fact is that we *do* care about them.

      If I have no way of validating whether my feelings are suggesting right or wrong behaviours, why trust them? Why care about them?

      The fact is that you *do* care about your feelings. By definition your “feelings” are the things you care about! You don’t need a *reason* to care about them.

      We treat morality like statements like “Slavery is morally wrong” HAVE an objective truth value.

      Yes, most people do presume moral realism in how they talk, and often in how they think.

      Because you CLEARLY still want to make moral claims and references and use the language even though you accept that it’s meaningless.

      Yes, I want to use the language because if I invented a new one of my own then it’d be hard to communicate. And moral language is not meaningless, it is only the moral-realist aspects of it that are misleading.

      What sort of language do you think we really ought to use when talking about morality, and why is that language truly moral at all?

      By “truly moral” are you presuming moral realism?

      How do we distinguish moral emotions from non-moral ones?

      Absent moral realism, we don’t need a clear cut answer to that (why would we?).

      … and in fact resist ANY sort of moral judgement at all.

      Why would we resist making moral judgements? We all have feelings, and those feelings are important to us. Why would we want to deny that?

      Which hardly fits in with your comment that it is justified and defined by evolution …

      I said that morality *arose* from evolution. I never used the words “justified and defined”, which sound like moral-realist concepts to apply to morals.

      Sure it is. You are saying that what we happen to CONSIDER moral is what being morally really IS.

      No, I’m saying that moral judgements are value judgements that we make based on our feelings. I am making no statement about what “being moral really is”, which sounds moral realist.

      , it’s the same error: looking at how things are and claiming that therefore that is how they OUGHT to be.

      Which I have not done.

      In this case, looking at the conclusions that our evolved emotions lead us to and insisting that they are the right conclusions …

      I’ve never said that they were the “right” conclusions. My whole point is that to assign truth values in such a way is misconceived.

      The point is this: either the moral feelings and assessments of autistics and psychopaths are equally as valid and reasonable for them to hold and act on as yours are, …

      What do you mean by “as valid and reasonable” there? It sounds suspiciously like an attempt to attach a truth value to them.

      Morality is its own concept, that we can only seek to understand but not reduce to other concepts.

      To me that is the last resort of moral realists, a resort that effectively makes morality meaningless.

      I say “If you want to be moral, you ought to do this. If you choose not to do that, you are at best amoral and at worst immoral”. I don’t need to justify or define morality any further, ..

      Suppose I said: “If you want to be skwee, you ought to do this. If you choose not to do that, you are at best a-skwee and at worst anti-skwee. I don’t need to justify or define skweeness any further”.

      Wouldn’t you think that that is just empty? Unless I give you some reason to be “skwee” that is not just not being not-skwee, then there is no reason to be skwee. Ditto your above claim about being “moral”.

      … we ought to act morally because we value morality in and of itself.

      We ought to be skwee because we value skweeness in and of itself, and if we don’t value skweeness then we are anti-skwee.

      It’s an iff: A person is a a moral person iff they act morally.

      Just as a person is a skwee person iff they act skweely.

    51. verbosestoic

      The state (in, e.g., the US and France) has been specifically instructed to stay out of religion. The instruction not to promote religious viewpoints thus applies to state-funded teachers.
      There is no similar instruction on the state to stay out of philosophies such as Stoicism. Therefore a teacher would have much greater leeway to promote such views. That’s because no-one has every bothered putting a restriction on them. However, were rival gangs of Stoic versus Cynic philosophers causing gang warfare on the streets, then maybe people would ask for such a restriction.

      So, if the people asked for a restriction on people entering the country based on a religious association that was currently acting violently against that state based on a religious justification, would that violate freedom of religion, or would it be okay?

    52. Coel Post author

      So, if the people asked for a restriction on people entering the country based on a religious association that was currently acting violently against that state based on a religious justification, would that violate freedom of religion, …

      A policy based on religious identity would not be neutral over religion, and thus would indeed violate the interpretation of “religious freedom” that I’m arguing for.

    53. verbosestoic

      The problem is that you justify this all on the basis of “the people have instructed …”, which would apply in this case as well. You can get around that by appealing to the Constitution, but at that point you’re appealing to rights, and what the people specifically instruct, then, is irrelevant. This is especially bad since my whole argument is that these restrictions can only be justified with appeals to rights, so this ends up being waffling and dodging, or at least not understanding my position. But more on that in the next comment, I think.

    54. Coel Post author

      You can get around that by appealing to the Constitution, but at that point you’re appealing to rights, and what the people specifically instruct, then, is irrelevant.

      In the end, “rights” are merely collective agreements. They have no status other than as being what “the people have instructed” as to how society should operate. You seem to be treating “rights” as having special status, beyond what people have agreed, but I don’t see that that idea is supportable.

    55. verbosestoic

      An elected official, even if they campaigned on that promise, cannot make a law that violates a Constitutional Right, despite it being reasonable to say that the people instructed them to do so.

      A vote in a House of Parliament or any other law making body cannot overturn a Constitutional right, despite that being the definition of “the people have instructed” in a representational democracy.

      A referendum cannot overturn a Constitutional right, even though that is the most direct “the people have instructed” condition we have.

      Therefore, rights are, at a minimum, very SPECIAL instructions, ones that cannot be overturned by any direct vote, and can only be modified through the very special procedures put in place to modify the Constitution. Therefore, appealing to “the people have instructed” as if rights were no more than that is at best disingenuous.

    56. Coel Post author

      All processes for changing laws follow procedures specified for that purpose. The “constitutional” ones are merely the highest level of such procedures, being ones to which all other law-making procedures are subject.

      But, it’s still the case that a constitution arises from a collective agreement of the nation, and, further, that it can be modified by collective agreement of the nation. And, further still, the precedence of constitutional laws and the special procedure for their establishment are also matters resulting from collective agreement. Thus, overall, one cannot get away from all of this ultimately deriving from collective agreements, and — yet further — each party to such agreements gives assent or dissent based on their personal opinion.

    57. verbosestoic

      And this is all irrelevant to the argument we’re having, which is my saying that if you’re going to oppose a right, you’ve gotta have one in your back pocket, because rights trump all other collective agreements. This still holds even by what you say here.

    58. Coel Post author

      … because rights trump all other collective agreements….

      In the US the collective agreement for church-state separation has the same status as the most fundamental “rights”, being part of the same Bill of Rights. This is the same in other nations with a secular constitution.

    59. Coel Post author

      Hi verbosestoic,

      … a secular society must have an independent right to freedom of religion that must allow for religious accommodation.

      Why must religious requests be accommodated more than a similar non-religious request? Surely that would give religion special privileges, which then denies secular equality?

      while religion has an expression component the meat of it is in terms of actions, not expressing ideas. […] freedom of religion has to include them being able to [act on their beliefs in a manner that they believe pleases God] or else you are restricting it.

      Sure, of course we’re restricting the *practice* of religion. The religious may not sacrifice virgins at midnight, nor ignore speed limits, nor do any number of things that are against the law. But if society considers that it is reasonable to restrict certain acts by law, then I don’t see why the religious should get more accommodation than anyone else.

      Thus, at the end of the day, secular states cannot take actions promoting or condemning any specific religious position; stances on religions are left up to the individuals, and the state doesn’t take sides.

      I entirely agree. So if a non-religious person has a right to do something, then the state cannot prevent a religious person doing a similar thing but with religious content.

      … the state cannot restrict religious PRACTICE, directly or indirectly, because then it would be getting into religious positions.

      The state can indeed restrict certain practices for good secular reasons. Whether or not that practice is mandated by various religious beliefs is then irrelevant, and something the state should take no note of.

      So, if the state agrees “this road shall have a 30 mph speed limit”, then it is entirely irrelevant if someone replies: “My religion requires me to drive down that road at 50 mph”. If that person’s religiously-required actions are restricted by that speed limit then tough. The state can still impose that rule without caring about the restriction on the religiously-required activity.

      If the state makes certain religious practices illegal … they are restricting the ability of the people to … practice their own religion.

      Indeed so!

      That’s the state taking sides, even if unintentionally.

      No, not at all, not if the speed limit is there for a genuine and valid secular reason.

      … therefore no one has the right to exemptions from the law based on their own philosophical positions.

      If you’re suggesting that religious people have this right and yet those with non-religious philosophical positions do not, then how do you square that with a commitment to equal citizenship?

      “Religious freedom” simply cannot be taken to imply what you’re suggesting. In *your* scheme the state takes sides, by giving extra accommodation and privileges to the religious.

      Your scheme is also unworkable, since it gives no guidance as to what accommodation is “reasonable”. Further, you seem to be accepting that the state need not accommodation *unreasonable* requests, which means that you do accept the right to restrict religious practice, which then destroys the logic of your argument.

    60. verbosestoic

      Let me restate as a summary my main points here, as you started your reply with a comment on what I went on to try to demonstrate in the comment [grin].

      1) Freedom of religion cannot be subsumed under freedom of expression because freedom of religion critically involves actions that are not taken to express any idea.

      2) Secular states need to treat religious positions differently than other positions because, following Blackford, they have to explicitly stay out of religious decisions and practices, while expecting religious considerations to stay out of their decisions as well.

      3) This does not hold for other philosophical positions because a secular state may and in fact may be obligated to take sides and promote or discourage certain philosophical positions.

      Starting from that framework, let me examine your responses:

      If you’re suggesting that religious people have this right and yet those with non-religious philosophical positions do not, then how do you square that with a commitment to equal citizenship?

      So what would you think of an argument against abortion that said that including abortion rights in the right to bodily integrity would be granting a right to women that would not be granted to men, and that this would violate a commitment to equal citizenship, and that therefore abortion must be illegal? You’d probably say that it’s not relevant because men simply don’t NEED to exercise that right, and so women aren’t getting anything special. The same thing, then, would apply to the religious case: if your religious beliefs do not require you to have an exemption in those cases, then you lose nothing by not having that exemption there.

      In order to make a case for it being an unacceptable inequality to grant religious exemptions to some laws, I think you have to disagree with me on 2) above, and argue that a secular state must treat religious positions like all other positions. The problem you’ll have here, I think, is that even atheists DON’T want that. For example, take the case of prayers before various government meetings. My argument has been that if, say, you could read a philosophical reading or, say, something from the Wit and Wisdom of Olaf the Only Mildly Confused before a meeting if it had meaning to the community and the relevant powers-that-be decided to do it, then under the “Religion must be treated like everything else” interpretation you’d have to allow prayers, too. You’d have to allow people to run on and advocate for political actions and laws based on religion just as much as you’d have to allow it based on, say, Stoic philosophy. Even the rather well-known Jessica Ahlquist case isn’t a violate of a secular state if you’d allow statements of philosophy to be posted. So many atheists see these as encroachments on the secular state, but that suggests that religion has to be treated specially when compared to other beliefs. And it is that that gets me to reasonable accommodation.

      In *your* scheme the state takes sides, by giving extra accommodation and privileges to the religious

      It doesn’t take sides. It treats all religious positions the same, by not infringing on their ability to practice their religious beliefs. This includes those who have no religion, which is why you can say that you can’t start a meeting with prayer or force people to pray without being representative. The only clash, then, would between those with reasons tied to a religious position to ask for an exclusion and those who don’t. It’s only if you can accept that religious positions ought to be treated like all other positions that you can make this claim, but I’m obviously not in favour of that interpretation.

      Your scheme is also unworkable, since it gives no guidance as to what accommodation is “reasonable”

      Well, the comment was long enough as it is [grin]. But “reasonable” pretty much starts from the minimum required to avoid the clash between the religious position and the relevant law. Moreover, you can’t violate someone else’s rights with your accommodation.

      Further, you seem to be accepting that the state need not accommodation *unreasonable* requests, which means that you do accept the right to restrict religious practice, which then destroys the logic of your argument.

      Freedom of religion, in my interpretation, is a right. This means that it can clash with OTHER rights as well, and so at a minimum you have to consider that accommodations that unduly violate the rights of others risk being unreasonable, although they might end up being reasonable if the decision is made that, in specific cases, the right to freedom of religion trumps the other right. Also, you have to take the option that is the least imposing on others; you don’t get to push for the one that causes a great burden on others because you find it more convenient. Thus, as a right, we decide what is reasonable and what isn’t on the basis that we use for determining this for ALL OTHER RIGHTS, so there is no destruction of my logic at all, unless you think that any right that argues against restriction is absolute.

      As an example, let’s take the Kim Davis case. It might be said that a reasonable accommodation for her would be to allow her to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples herself, but not to stop the office from doing so. The only caveat here is that it might end up that no one can provide the service, which then might deprive them of their rights. We can then assess that situation based on how important that is and if there are other options. Marriage is probably important enough to force a licensing office to find a way to provide it, but I’d argue that something like a wedding cake or wedding photography wouldn’t. But ultimately, it all comes down to what happens when rights clash. If someone being exempted from a law based on a valid and legitimate religious objection does not violate anyone else’s rights in any way, then a reasonable accommodation ought to be to allow it. To argue against that if your rights are not violated really strikes as a bit of a “sour grapes” type of argument, where you are upset because they get to do something that you can’t, but not being able to do that violates their rights, and so you kinda have to let that one go [grin].

    61. Coel Post author

      Hi verbose stoic,

      … freedom of religion critically involves actions that are not taken to express any idea.

      That is the central point in dispute. I say that it doesn’t.

      states … have to explicitly stay out of religious decisions and practices, …

      Yes, in that they shouldn’t have an opinion on religious matters, and neither favour nor disfavour religious ideas.

      So what would you think of an argument against abortion that said that including abortion rights in the right to bodily integrity would be granting a right to women that would not be granted to men, …

      I’m not sure I understand your question. The right of bodily integrity would be granted to men and women equally. It would, though, have different consequences in the two cases, but the basic right would be the same.

      I think you have to disagree with me on 2) above, and argue that a secular state must treat religious positions like all other positions.

      I wouldn’t so much disagree with you on (2) as phrase it rather differently. I’d say that the religious content is *speech*, and is covered under free-speech rights available to all. The state should then stay out of regulating that speech.

      Thus, if I were allowed to drive a car displaying a sign saying “quality pizzas cheap” then I should be allowed to drive the same car displaying “Jesus is Lord”. The difference there is about speech. But, in both cases the state can restrict the speed at which I drive, if it is doing so for a secular reason such as safety.

      I would not agree that: “In driving my care with the Jesus-is-Lord sign I am fulfilling a religious requirement to evangelise, and the state must stay out of religious acts, therefore it may not restrict the speed at which I am driving while displaying that sign, though it may restrict the speed of the car with the pizza advertisement”.

      … take the case of prayers before various government meetings.

      That’s rather different since speech by government agents is government speech, and is more restricted than speech by citizens. But, if the government were organising an open platform, where anyone can espouse their favourite philosophy, then, yes, religious speech should be allowed.

    62. verbosestoic

      That is the central point in dispute. I say that it doesn’t.

      As it will turn out, this ISN’T the central point in dispute, but I think it obvious that religion does, indeed, fundamentally involve those sorts of actions. Someone praying at home, alone, for example, is no more attempting to express an idea than someone reading a philosophy text at home is. Someone who wears a religious symbol hidden under their clothes is no more attempting to express an idea than someone who, say, carries around a lucky penny. And I’d say that attending services on a Sunday is no more expressing an idea than going to see a movie is. These are all actions taken as religious obligations, but there is no attempt to express an idea or convince anyone else of any idea, and for the most part these aren’t even public actions. Yet these sorts of actions are fundamental to many religions.

      From this and other comments, I think you focus FAR too much on the evangelizing/proselytizing parts of religion, but even that is something that has two components: the speech part — expressing the idea — and the religious part. We can see this because we can note the possibility of religions where proselytizing is NOT a religious obligation, meaning that while one CAN try to convince people to convert to one’s religion, there’s no religious obligation to do so. In that case, the proselytizing would be merely expression. However, for religions where one is religiously REQUIRED to do so, then it ALSO becomes an obligation. And then I would argue that there would be cases where even if freedom of expression did not allow the proselytizing, it may have to be allowed due to the religious freedom angle.

      Critically, religion is about people being able to act in accordance with what they think God wants them to do, not about expressing a belief in God. Given that, you simply cannot lump it in under freedom of expression because freedom of expression will not cover the fundamentally important actions that are necessary to religious practice.

      I’m not sure I understand your question. The right of bodily integrity would be granted to men and women equally. It would, though, have different consequences in the two cases, but the basic right would be the same.

      Exactly. And the same thing holds for my view of the right to religious freedom, as the non-religious are equally protected by it. My right to religious freedom has two components:

      1) The right to not be compelled to act in accordance with a religious position that is not yours.

      2) The right to be able to act on your own religious beliefs without undue interference.

      The non-religious clearly require the first one, and it is critically important to them. For the second, the non-religious are covered by it, but in general it’s the case that they don’t NEED it; they have no religious position that demands that they act specifically in certain ways that can be restricted. So, just like men never need the “I can get an abortion” part of the right to bodily integrity, the non-religious generally never need the right to “I can practice my religious beliefs without interference” part of the right to freedom of religion, but this does not mean that the right to freedom of religion means that the religious are given privilege any more than the right to bodily integrity means that women are given privilege.

      Thus, you need a better case for privilege than “They get exemptions from laws when we don’t!”, because it is obvious that the reason they would GET exemptions in those cases is that if they didn’t the state would effectively be making practicing their religion illegal, which means that they would be forced to either abandon their religion or face legal sanctions . The whole point of freedom of religion is to avoid the state making religions illegal, so not allowing these exemptions definitely seems to be violating the purpose of the right. If you disagree, you need to make a case for why making a religious practice illegal unintentionally is no worse than making it illegal intentionally, because at the end of the day the consequences are the same: the religion is made illegal.

      I wouldn’t so much disagree with you on (2) as phrase it rather differently. I’d say that the religious content is *speech*, and is covered under free-speech rights available to all. The state should then stay out of regulating that speech.

      Which means that you disagree with my 2), because your rephrasing essentially reduces to “Religion should be treated like everything else”, and my point 2 is explicitly that secular states CAN’T treat religion like everything else. This is independent of whether religion can be covered as speech or not, so this is thus the central issue in our discussion.

      To expand a bit on what I think Blackford was saying, the reason that a secular state has to treat religious positions differently is that they are otherworldly positions, and a secular state has no interest and no expertise in otherworldly positions. Thus, it leaves those positions entirely up to the individual, and doesn’t advocate for or against them. However, the secular state has GREAT interest in worldly positions, and so can take any position it likes on them, while religion ought not have strong positions on worldly concerns. So the state has to regulate the worldly and asks religion to stay out of it, and in exchange the state promises to stay out of otherwordly concerns. So, right here, the state treats religious concerns differently, as it doesn’t interfere with them even as it might interfere with philosophies and positions aimed at worldly considerations.

      Now, of course, the issue is that as religions do fundamentally includes actions in this world — aimed at the other world — there is some overlap. So how, then, are we to handle that? Blackford, as it turns out, agrees with you that given a secular reason for a law, religions have to follow the law, and so religious practices can be restricted on that basis. I disagree for the reasons given above: this breaks the agreement because the secular state is not allowed to interfere in religious practices, and even if unintentional stopping religious practices by making them illegal is interference. However, the state ALSO has an obligation to ensure that their worldly concerns are dealt with, and so needs to ensure that they don’t simply allow a religious objection to foil their plans for building a proper worldly state. Thus, we need reasonable accommodation, where we try to find a solution that allows the religion to practice its tenets without unduly impacting the secular considerations that prompted the law in the first place. Generally, simply exempting religious practices from the law works best in those cases, but there are numerous ways to find the best compromise, or rather accommodation, to satisfy both sides.

      I would not agree that: “In driving my care with the Jesus-is-Lord sign I am fulfilling a religious requirement to evangelise, and the state must stay out of religious acts, therefore it may not restrict the speed at which I am driving while displaying that sign, though it may restrict the speed of the car with the pizza advertisement”.

      Perhaps the “religious acts” is confusing you, because the thing to note in this example is that there is nothing in your discussion that shows how restricting the speed in any way hinders the religious action. You seem to be treating it like putting that sign on the car means exemption from any laws that the person doesn’t like, which is clearly false. Religious accommodation only applies to the parts of the action that are mandated by the religion and are religious obligations, not the parts that aren’t. So, here, while being able to put that sign ON the car MIGHT be covered — it doesn’t have to be — unless they can make a case for why they’d have to drive faster than that due to their religious beliefs, that WOULDN’T be covered. Essentially, my interpretation of freedom of religion means that I cannot be unduly blocked from taking SPECIFIC actions that I have a religious obligation to perform. That doesn’t apply to every action I take, even while doing it.

      This is why I raised the example of Kim Davis, and what reasonable accommodation might have to be. I can go over the contraception one as well, and note that while it MIGHT be reasonable for a Christian business owner to claim that they don’t want to get involved in paying for contraception for people, it WOULDN’T be reasonable for them to refuse to sign the waiver saying that they won’t provide it on the same grounds, because that accommodation is not reasonable, and really does devolve down to them refusing to do anything that might allow others to get that contraception based on their OWN religious beliefs that the others don’t share. Ironically, it’s not only an unreasonable accommodation, it also violates freedom of religion.

      That’s rather different since speech by government agents is government speech, and is more restricted than speech by citizens

      A government institution like a school is perfectly free to post motivational quotes and have motivational speeches, and to ask people to join together in reciting something meaningful to the community, even if some people don’t find it motivational or disagree with it. The only issue in the examples given is that the speech is religious and so forces non-religious people or people of that religion to participate in a religious action that is not of their own religion. And to do that, you need to interpret freedom of religion my way.

    63. Coel Post author

      Hi verbosestoic,

      Someone praying at home, alone, for example, is no more attempting to express an idea than someone reading a philosophy text at home is. Someone who wears a religious symbol hidden under their clothes is no more attempting to express an idea than someone who, say, carries around a lucky penny. And I’d say that attending services on a Sunday …

      Praying and wearing religious symbols would be regarded as “speech” and covered under freedom of speech. Attending a religious service is a mixture of free speech and free association. We don’t need additional “religious” rights to do any of those things.

      The whole point of freedom of religion is to avoid the state making religions illegal, so not allowing these exemptions definitely seems to be violating the purpose of the right.

      As I’ve argued elsewhere, I’m entirely comfortable with making religious acts illegal if there is a good and proper secular reason for doing so. An obvious example is FGM. Personally I’d happily make male circumcision illegal also (the rights of the child to choose trumping those of the parent) without caring about the religious dimension.

      If you disagree, you need to make a case for why making a religious practice illegal unintentionally is no worse than making it illegal intentionally …

      Making a religious practice illegal, as a non-intended by-product of a good secular reason, means that we have a good secular reason for doing it. Making a religious practice illegal for a religious reason means we don’t have a good reason for doing it.

      Imposing a religious doctrine on someone else is a violation of their religious freedom. Imposing a good and proper secular rule on them is not a violation of their religious freedom (regardless of whether it prohibits something their religion asks them to do).

      … a secular state has no interest and no expertise in otherworldly positions. Thus, it leaves those positions entirely up to the individual, and doesn’t advocate for or against them.

      Yes, agreed. It thus makes rules regardless of any religious considerations, and if that then means that a rule, made for good secular reasons, hampers a religious act, then tough.

      However, the secular state has GREAT interest in worldly positions, and so can take any position it likes on them, …So the state has to regulate the worldly …

      Exactly. So it can make any secular rule that it likes. Any actual act in the real world is a worldy act. It is those acts that the state can regulate for secular reasons.

      Blackford, as it turns out, agrees with you that given a secular reason for a law, religions have to follow the law, and so religious practices can be restricted on that basis.

      Good, then I agree with Blackford.

      I disagree for the reasons given above: this breaks the agreement because the secular state is not allowed to interfere in religious practices …

      That “agreement” is already broken if we outlaw the sacrificing of virgins at full moon.

      … in this example is that there is nothing in your discussion that shows how restricting the speed in any way hinders the religious action….

      Suppose the car driver makes the theological claim that their proselytising message is only effective if displayed on a car driven at 55 mph, and not on a car driven at 25 mph. According to your doctrine, you then have to start discussing reasonable accommodation with them. According to my doctrine the reply is that that’s just tough.

    64. verbosestoic

      Praying and wearing religious symbols would be regarded as “speech” and covered under freedom of speech.

      Private actions aren’t speech, and in both cases I was clear to point out that none of this was done publicly. These are actions, not speech acts.

      Attending a religious service is a mixture of free speech and free association. We don’t need additional “religious” rights to do any of those things.

      But now we’ve moved from “Religion can be covered completely under freedom of expression” to “The rights that are given to everyone cover everything religion needs covered”, which is a different argument, although still debatable.

      My point was that religion fundamentally involves actions that are not speech acts. You seem to be agreeing with that when you add “freedom of association” to the mix, so I’d have to say that you’ve conceded that point. If you have, then we can move on; if not, then you need to clarify your position.

      Suppose the car driver makes the theological claim that their proselytising message is only effective if displayed on a car driven at 55 mph, and not on a car driven at 25 mph. According to your doctrine, you then have to start discussing reasonable accommodation with them. According to my doctrine the reply is that that’s just tough.

      I’m not sure why you think this is a problem for my position. Yes, if they claimed that I’d have to talk about accommodation. And then I’d point out that their logic is absurd, as they should want to drive SLOWER, not FASTER, and that as long as there are options for effective proselytizing their rights are preserved. The state does not have to accept every request for accommodation, and don’t have to do precisely what the religious person wants them to do.

      The issue with YOUR doctrine is that a religious person can say that the state has made practicing their religion unacceptably onerous compared to other religions effectively disadvantaging them and your reply would be “Tough!” … except that not doing that seems to be what freedom of religion IS all about. This gets worse if the “good secular reason” doesn’t even APPLY to the religious case, so that we’d be able to achieve all of the secular results even IF we granted that exemption. Which is why I think my doctrine — and religious accommodation — is the right way to go, because if the secular reason doesn’t apply to the religious case, then there is no reason to disadvantage the religion in that way, if it does but a compromise can be reached then, again, there is no reason to disadvantage the religion in that way, and if there is no way to compromise then we have to decide on what right takes precedence in these cases.

      I see your doctrine as inevitably leading to the outlawing of all religions not in sync with the secular will, which is precisely what freedom of religion is supposed to prevent. You wouldn’t do it directly, but you’ll end up doing it indirectly, and thus at the end of the day the outcome will be the same.

    65. Coel Post author

      Private actions aren’t speech, …

      I don’t see why not. If I’m speaking with a friend in private I’m still speaking.

      But now we’ve moved … to “The rights that are given to everyone cover everything religion needs covered”, which is a different argument, …

      No, I’m not claiming that. I claimed only that the above acts (praying, emblem under clothing, attending service) are covered by other rights available to all (free speech, free association).

      My point was that religion fundamentally involves actions that are not speech acts.

      I agree. Religion fundamentally involves actions that are not speech acts. My point is that the state CAN regulate those acts if the regulation is for good secular reason. Thus, for example, the state can prohibit FGM regardless of whether that makes any religion effectively illegal!.

      Yes, if they claimed that I’d have to talk about accommodation.

      Exactly. Under my doctrine, you don’t.

      And then I’d point out that their logic is absurd, …

      To which the reply is “how dare you start questioning my religion!”. Do you really want the state to get involved in judging which religious ideas are absurd and which are not?

      … and your reply would be “Tough!” … except that not doing that seems to be what freedom of religion IS all about.

      I don’t agree; that is not what “freedom of religion” has traditionally meant.

      As I quoted in the OP, Jefferson’s “Virginia Statute” says: “That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions” and further that: ” … all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities“.

      You are disagreeing with that, saying that if a claim is made of religious motivation, then others have to compromise, and thus that the claimant’s civil capacities are indeed enlarged.

      … if the secular reason doesn’t apply to the religious case, then there is no reason to disadvantage the religion in that way …

      I entirely agree. If the secular reason doesn’t apply in a particular case then the secular rule should not apply, and there is indeed no reason to impose it. In such circumstance religion should indeed be granted indulgence.

    66. verbosestoic

      I don’t see why not. If I’m speaking with a friend in private I’m still speaking.

      When I said private I meant PRIVATE, an action you are taking without anyone else present or not being directed at anyone else. Reading a book in my room is not a speech act, for example. Nor is talking to myself … er, thinking out loud.

      No, I’m not claiming that. I claimed only that the above acts (praying, emblem under clothing, attending service) are covered by other rights available to all (free speech, free association).

      If you aren’t claiming that, then you have to be accepting that a separate right to freedom of religion might be necessary, which … does not seem to me to be what you are claiming, and seems to in fact be the precise OPPOSITE of what you are claiming. Also, the only difference between what I said and what you said is that I made it general and that you limited it to specific acts … but then you again don’t seem to think that there are any known specific acts that religion might need covered that aren’t covered by those rights, and you’ve said that on multiple occasions. So I’m confused [grin].

      My point is that the state CAN regulate those acts if the regulation is for good secular reason. Thus, for example, the state can prohibit FGM regardless of whether that makes any religion effectively illegal!.

      And I say they can only do that if that restriction comes from a clash with another right. Otherwise, they must compromise to avoid restricting religions and effectively making them illegal. In short, the only good secular reason for restricting a religious practice to the extent that you might effectively make practicing that religion illegal is a reason based on the rights of others. And even then it might not count as a good secular reason in some cases.

      To which the reply is “how dare you start questioning my religion!”. Do you really want the state to get involved in judging which religious ideas are absurd and which are not?

      In your example — which is a really, really bad one by the way [grin] — I wouldn’t be questioning their religion, which says that they must proselytize, but instead their argument that I would be unduly restricting the EFFECTIVENESS of their proselytizing by forcing them to drive slower … which is absurd, since if they drive too quickly no one will have time to READ it before they pass by [grin].

      Essentially, the idea is this: if someone wants an exemption for religious reasons, they need to make an argument to the secular state for why they need it. The secular state then evaluates the reasons and judges whether they are convinced of that or not by their own arguments. They can also bring in experts to decide what would or wouldn’t be acceptable. In the case you gave, their own argument didn’t make sense, and if safety is an issue then if we can find a way to let them proselytize that doesn’t involve the car then we can do that as well.

      It is perfectly reasonable to expect judges to balance the rights of different people in different situations. They do that all the time. They gather the information they need and make the decision based on the best information they have. Clashes with the rights of religious people should be no different, and aren’t under my view.

      You are disagreeing with that, saying that if a claim is made of religious motivation, then others have to compromise, and thus that the claimant’s civil capacities are indeed enlarged.

      Again, we can’t simply rely on the U.S. view here, but even if we did how does it not diminish one’s civil capacities when maintaining their religion means that they are a criminal? If you make it so that they cannot be both a law-abiding citizen AND practice their religion, that seems like a diminishment to me. And it gets even worse when we consider the cases where it is only the STATE that has to compromise, not others, so cases where the religious simply get an exemption to the law. No one else has to compromise there, so it doesn’t seem like any kind of enlargement to me. It is not an enlargement of women’s civil capacities that they can get abortions and men can’t, because men don’t need it. The same thing applies here: those not of that religion don’t NEED an exemption to the law to protect their rights, but the people in that religion DO.

      I entirely agree. If the secular reason doesn’t apply in a particular case then the secular rule should not apply, and there is indeed no reason to impose it. In such circumstance religion should indeed be granted indulgence.

      Okay, so then, to my mind, we agree on religious accommodation, unless you think that should apply to non-religious cases as well, which could be problematic. For example, say that a state brings in a law that says that you need to have snow tires on your vehicle for the winter. Imagine that someone says that they don’t drive when the roads are bad in the winter — me, when I retire [grin] — and so the secular reason — safety — doesn’t apply to them. Is the law required to grant them an exception? Because I’d say that it isn’t — as it might find checking this to be inconvenient, for example — but that in general for religious cases, at least, where the religious usage doesn’t cause the issue the state is trying to solve, they are required to even if it is inconvenient.

      If we agree this far, then we need to discuss where the line gets drawn on religious accommodation.

    67. Coel Post author

      If you aren’t claiming that, then you have to be accepting that a separate right to freedom of religion might be necessary, …

      No, I am saying that “freedom of religion” should not be interpreted as granting rights beyond other general freedoms (speech, association), and thus that a separate right to freedom of religion is not necessary.

      … but then you again don’t seem to think that there are any known specific acts that religion might need covered that aren’t covered by those rights, …

      No!! There *are* known specific acts that religion might required that are NOT covered by those rights (freedom of speech and association), and I’m saying that in such cases the state CAN prohibit those acts (e.g. FGM), and yes that does effectively prohibit any religion which requires them, and that I am 100% comfortable with that.

      I’m also saying that this is 100% in-line with the doctrine of “freedom of religion” when that is properly understood as granting nothing beyond other general freedoms (speech, association).

      And I say they can only do that if that restriction comes from a clash with another right.

      And I 100% agree. The state should only create rules and laws for good secular reasons, which means the rights and interests of others.

      I wouldn’t be questioning their religion, which says that they must proselytize, but instead their argument that I would be unduly restricting the EFFECTIVENESS of their proselytizing by forcing them to drive slower … which is absurd, …

      But their doctrine that driving faster makes it more effective is an article of their religious dogma and thus they are required by their religion to drive faster. Who are you to question what their religion requires?

      … The secular state then evaluates the reasons and judges whether they are convinced of that or not by their own arguments. They can also bring in experts to decide what would or wouldn’t be acceptable. In the case you gave, their own argument didn’t make sense, …

      In other words the state sets up theological courts to start pronouncing on theological dogma. No, absolutely no way!

      Okay, so then, to my mind, we agree on religious accommodation, unless you think that should apply to non-religious cases as well, which could be problematic.

      Yes, I’m essentially saying that the state should discount religious opinion and ideas. Thus a request stated for a religious reason should be treated the same as a request stated without any reason given.

      but that in general for religious cases, at least, where the religious usage doesn’t cause the issue the state is trying to solve, they are required to even if it is inconvenient.

      Sorry, I disagree with this extra indulgence being granted to the religious. We should all be equal under the law.

    68. verbosestoic

      No, I am saying that “freedom of religion” should not be interpreted as granting rights beyond other general freedoms (speech, association), and thus that a separate right to freedom of religion is not necessary.

      So, then, can you please tell me how this is different from what _I_ said you were saying?

      No!! There *are* known specific acts that religion might required that are NOT covered by those rights (freedom of speech and association), and I’m saying that in such cases the state CAN prohibit those acts (e.g. FGM), and yes that does effectively prohibit any religion which requires them, and that I am 100% comfortable with that.

      What I meant was that you don’t think there are any VALID requirements that aren’t covered by other rights. Thus, we will never look at a case where by argument and intuition we determine that religions would need an exemption but can’t find another right that would give that to them. I think that’s fairly accurate, but if it isn’t please correct me.

      And I 100% agree. The state should only create rules and laws for good secular reasons, which means the rights and interests of others.

      I think that laws are often written that are aimed at no more than producing the desired society, and not to protect the rights of people at all. Thus, in my parlance, about what are seen as the interests of the society and hopefully the majority of that society but not about their rights at all. I think that you can only legislate against a religious practice if that violates the rights of others, and even then accommodation might be necessary. Your terminology means that we may or may not be agreeing on this, so this distinction is important.

      But their doctrine that driving faster makes it more effective is an article of their religious dogma and thus they are required by their religion to drive faster. Who are you to question what their religion requires?

      If you want an exemption from the law, you have to convince the secular state that your need is valid. Thus, it is up to them to demonstrate that it is a valid religious requirement. This not my judging their view of their religion, but is instead asking them to explain it to the state. If they can’t, then the state is perfectly free to point out that it looks more like an attempt to avoid having to follow the law than a real religious conflict.

      In short, if you say that the law conflicts with your religion you have to be able to convince the state that it does. This is no different than what is the case for any other legal challenge to a law.

      In other words the state sets up theological courts to start pronouncing on theological dogma. No, absolutely no way!

      I believe that it was the Dover court case that tried to assess if ID was really religious and so therefore whether it could be talked about in public schools. How is that case different than the case you cite? You want people to be protected from state-sponsoring of religion, and that requires the courts to determine what counts as religious — and promoting of religion — and what doesn’t. So to me it looks like we’re in the situation — to quote Babylon 5 — where the avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.

      Yes, I’m essentially saying that the state should discount religious opinion and ideas. Thus a request stated for a religious reason should be treated the same as a request stated without any reason given.

      By this reasoning, Jessica Ahlquist should have lost her case, prayers before council meetings should be allowed, coaches should be able to pray with their players before a game and teachers should be able to talk about ID in evolution sections in science classes.

      Schools are definitely allowed to post inspirational posters around the school, and to display gifts. If the graduating class had given a poem instead of a prayer, it would have been allowed, even if it expressed some things that some students didn’t agree with. Councils are allowed to start with an inspirational reading, even if some people don’t agree with the reading. Coaches can start games with readings that they find inspirational, even if some of the players don’t agree. And teachers can bring in additional perspectives and readings and give their own opinions on the topics, even if they are not what everyone agrees with. Given this, the only reason these cases one was that the views expressed were religious, and all of those cases start from religious reasons: specifically, that the state is in this case promoting a religion. But if religious reasons are to be treated like everything else, we’d have to ask if this would be allowed if the reason was not religious. And it would be, as I’ve pointed out.

      So how do you preserve these cases? It’s not making participating in a specifically religious practice illegal; it’s simply people and institutions treating religious speech like all other speech.

      Sorry, I disagree with this extra indulgence being granted to the religious. We should all be equal under the law.

      You need to address my abortion example before you can simply say this, as you must know by now that I disagree, and why I disagree, that my view makes people unequal under the law.

    69. Coel Post author

      What I meant was that you don’t think there are any VALID requirements that aren’t covered by other rights. Thus, we will never look at a case where by argument and intuition we determine that religions would need an exemption but can’t find another right that would give that to them.

      Yes, that is what I’m saying.

      Thus, it is up to them to demonstrate that it is a valid religious requirement. This not my judging their view of their religion, but is instead asking them to explain it to the state.

      I really don’t think that the state should get involved in deciding the consistency or the deeply-held-ness of religious doctrines.

      … it looks more like an attempt to avoid having to follow the law than a real religious conflict.

      I don’t think that a “real religious conflict” should grant any extra accommodation. I don’t think that the state should get involved with that is a religion, what is a “real religion”, or what is a “real religious conflict”.

      I believe that it was the Dover court case that tried to assess if ID was really religious and so therefore whether it could be talked about in public schools.

      Dover was really assessing whether the rules were there for good secular reason (it found that they were not, that they were religion in disguise). Determining whether a law is justified on secular grounds is different from and much easier than getting involved with religion.

      Thus a request stated for a religious reason should be treated the same as a request stated without any reason given.

      By this reasoning, Jessica Ahlquist should have lost her case, prayers before council meetings should be allowed, coaches should be able to pray with their players before a game and teachers should be able to talk about ID in evolution sections in science classes.

      No, not so, because in all those cases requests to speak for other reasons would have been denied. In all such cases the religious speech was *privileged* speech. If such speech had genuinely been treated the same way as other requests, in other words, had it been part of an open-access forum, then it would have been ok.

      Schools are definitely allowed to post inspirational posters around the school, and to display gifts.

      Yes, and if they allow equal access — that a student with a non-religious gets the same chance as a student with a religious message — then that would be allowed. It would be wrong for them to say that a student could put forward anything except a religious message.

      Given this, the only reason these cases one was that the views expressed were religious, …

      No, the complaint was that the speech gave preference to religion in that it was chosen because it was religious.

      If a teacher presents a class with ten readings to discuss, and one of them is religious, then that is allowed. If a teacher picks content because it is religious, then that is not allowed.

      If the state puts a ten-commandments monument on its lawn, and then someone else asks if they can have a statute of Beelzebub along side it, then, if the state says, sure, the statute of Beelzebub is also allowed, then the ten-commandments monument is allowed — regardless of its religious content. That’s because, in that case, the presence of religious content was not part of the decision to allow it. If the state says that *only* the ten-commandments monument is allowed, then that is not ok.

    70. verbosestoic

      Dover was really assessing whether the rules were there for good secular reason (it found that they were not, that they were religion in disguise). Determining whether a law is justified on secular grounds is different from and much easier than getting involved with religion.

      Dover had to judge whether or not ID counted as being religious — like creationism — or whether it was secular. That’s just the flip side of the issue. In the cases I’m talking about, it’s about deciding if something is religious in order to determine if it is allowable, and in Dover it was about deciding if something is religious to determine if it isn’t allowable. Saying that it’s just about seeing if it has a secular purpose is just hiding what was really going on.

      No, not so, because in all those cases requests to speak for other reasons would have been denied.

      No, that’s not true. The coach case is, in fact, a direct contradiction, because while a different religious ceremony might not have been allowed, the coach would have been perfectly within his rights to start with a speech quoting, say, Tom Landry. It is, therefore, that the speech was religious that caused the issue, and that it favoured one religion over others. Non-religious speech, on the other hand, would have been allowed without controversy.

      Yes, and if they allow equal access — that a student with a non-religious gets the same chance as a student with a religious message — then that would be allowed. It would be wrong for them to say that a student could put forward anything except a religious message.

      Except that’s what the interpretations are saying. In the Ahlquist case, the prayer was a gift from the first graduating class, that they thought reasonable and inspirational. Surely you agree that if they had decided to write a poem instead, it would have been allowed, yes? So then the only reason it was unacceptable was because it was a prayer and not a poem, which means that it’s only unacceptable because it’s religious and therefore risks the state deliberately promoting a religion. Your view of religious freedom that makes no distinctions cannot support such a ruling, and so by your view Ahlquist should have lost her case.

      If a teacher presents a class with ten readings to discuss, and one of them is religious, then that is allowed. If a teacher picks content because it is religious, then that is not allowed.

      To what degree is a teacher allowed to select readings that fit the curriculum but that reflect their own views? If I was a teacher and could present a Stoic reading, then a religious one ought to be equally allowed, no?

      If the state puts a ten-commandments monument on its lawn, and then someone else asks if they can have a statute of Beelzebub along side it, then, if the state says, sure, the statute of Beelzebub is also allowed, then the ten-commandments monument is allowed — regardless of its religious content. That’s because, in that case, the presence of religious content was not part of the decision to allow it. If the state says that *only* the ten-commandments monument is allowed, then that is not ok

      And if they say that the ten commandments one is allowed and the Beelzebub one is not because the former actually reflects the views of the majority of the citizens and the latter doesn’t, what then?

    71. Coel Post author

      The coach case is, in fact, a direct contradiction, because while a different religious ceremony might not have been allowed, the coach would have been perfectly within his rights to start with a speech quoting, say, Tom Landry. It is, therefore, that the speech was religious that caused the issue, and that it favoured one religion over others.

      In the case of a football coach or a teacher, or anyone else acting as a “government agent”, they need to abide by government neutrality about religion. That’s different from how the government treats third-party speech.

      Surely you agree that if they had decided to write a poem instead, it would have been allowed, yes?

      Yes. And, suppose that Ahlquist had chosen to make a gift displaying an anti-religious speech by Dawkins. If the school would have been happy to display that alongside the prayer gift, then both would have been ok, since they would be establishing an open-access forum. What the school/state could not do is allow the prayer but not the anti-religious gift, if they were exercising religious judgement to do so.

      To what degree is a teacher allowed to select readings that fit the curriculum but that reflect their own views? If I was a teacher and could present a Stoic reading, then a religious one ought to be equally allowed, no?

      If, in selecting religious material, their motive is to educate, then that’s ok. (On such matters an educator would, of course, seek to present material from differing viewpoints, and compare and contrast them.) If the motive is to promote their religion then that’s not ok.

      Thus, ten readings, all from the Bible, might not be ok. But ten readings from a range of religious and non-religious works, likely would be ok.

      And if they say that the ten commandments one is allowed and the Beelzebub one is not because the former actually reflects the views of the majority of the citizens and the latter doesn’t, what then?

      That’s not allowed, since the state saying “only majority viewpoints allowed” is a rejection of free speech. (And my whole stance is that religious freedom should be regarded as a variety of free speech.)

    72. verbosestoic

      In the case of a football coach or a teacher, or anyone else acting as a “government agent”, they need to abide by government neutrality about religion. That’s different from how the government treats third-party speech.

      In line with the previous comment, I assume that you think that if I was a coach and wanted to start every game with a recitation of one of Marcus Aurelius’ inspirational Stoic meditations, that wouldn’t trigger the government neutrality clause. If so, then what is the difference between my Stoicism and my religion that justifies my not being equally allowed to start with the Lord’s Prayer that ALSO allows the state to make a law restricting me from practicing my religion, even unintentionally?

      Yes. And, suppose that Ahlquist had chosen to make a gift displaying an anti-religious speech by Dawkins. If the school would have been happy to display that alongside the prayer gift, then both would have been ok, since they would be establishing an open-access forum. What the school/state could not do is allow the prayer but not the anti-religious gift, if they were exercising religious judgement to do so.

      You DO realize that her complaint was that the prayer was displayed, not that they wouldn’t display something else as well, right? So again, as far as I can see by your reasoning she should have lost her case.

      But I assume that you agree with this: if a religious organization or person was working with the school on something, and gave a prayer as a gift to commemorate them working together, the school has no “freedom of religion” reason not to display it, if they’d display something similar that was secular, right?

      Also, then, if the school promotes secular community events they must also promote religious community events?

      Also, then, if you could get children to participate in singing songs that have specific cultural meaning, in a place dedicated to that, then that has to be allowed not only where those places are secular, but also where they are religious?

      Thus, ten readings, all from the Bible, might not be ok. But ten readings from a range of religious and non-religious works, likely would be ok.

      Could I, as a teacher, add a module of ten readings on the Stoics because it is of interest to me?

      That’s not allowed, since the state saying “only majority viewpoints allowed” is a rejection of free speech. (And my whole stance is that religious freedom should be regarded as a variety of free speech.)

      The state is perfectly within its rights to adopt and promote the ideas of the majority. Allowing people to speak does not mean that they must provide a platform to do so. For example, if they are setting up a display for Christmas and I petition to have a Stoic display, they can easily decide that there aren’t enough people represented to take up the space and so mine won’t be allowed. And given the wide range of views — especially if you include both religions and philosophies — at some point the state HAS to say “Sorry, but you don’t represent enough of the community to warrant representation in public spaces, but you are free to present your views privately”. That still preserves free speech, as far as I know.

    73. Coel Post author

      if I was a coach and wanted to start every game with a recitation of one of Marcus Aurelius’ inspirational Stoic meditations, that wouldn’t trigger the government neutrality clause.

      Yes. Since there is no religious or anti-religious content, then it is neutral and so not a problem.

      If so, then what is the difference between my Stoicism and my religion that justifies my not being equally allowed to start with the Lord’s Prayer that ALSO allows the state to make a law restricting me from practicing my religion, even unintentionally?

      The law is fine if it is there for good secular reasons, that are neither about promoting a religious view nor an anti-religious view. The Lord’s Prayer is not ok from a government agent, since it has religious content.

      You DO realize that her complaint was that the prayer was displayed, not that they wouldn’t display something else as well, right?

      Yes, and that is a fair complaint if the school is picking what can be displayed (since that amounts to adopting the content of the display). However, had the school’s defence been that it was an open-access wall, and that any students could display messages there, then that defence would likely have succeeded.

      … if a religious organization or person was working with the school on something, and gave a prayer as a gift to commemorate them working together, the school has no “freedom of religion” reason not to display it, if they’d display something similar that was secular, right?

      The issue is whether the school “adopts” the speech by endorsing it or giving it preferential display or similar. That it cannot do. But, if the school is not endorsing or favouring the speech then that is fine. So, for example, if a school asks each child in a class to make a speech about whatever they wish, then that child is entitled to include religious content, because the school would not be endorsing it.

      Also, then, if the school promotes secular community events they must also promote religious community events?

      No. The school could promote any number of secular messages, since that is not an issue for neutrality.

      Could I, as a teacher, add a module of ten readings on the Stoics because it is of interest to me?

      Yes!

      The state is perfectly within its rights to adopt and promote the ideas of the majority.

      Not on religious matters, no. The people cannot vote to pick a church to be established.

      For example, if they are setting up a display for Christmas and I petition to have a Stoic display, they can easily decide that there aren’t enough people represented to take up the space and so mine won’t be allowed.

      If they do it on the basis of first-come-first-served or by a lottery or by any method that is religiously neutral then that’s fine. Under the First Amendment, though, they cannot say “popular religions get preference, minority philosophical movements lose out”.

    74. verbosestoic

      The law is fine if it is there for good secular reasons, that are neither about promoting a religious view nor an anti-religious view. The Lord’s Prayer is not ok from a government agent, since it has religious content.

      The point of my question wasn’t to get you to repeat your reasoning here, which I think I understand and don’t agree with. The point was to get you to distinguish between my Stoic philosophy and my religious philosophy in a way that allows you to say that the government must be religiously neutral, but that doesn’t also trump your argument against my view on law-making that was, essentially, that religion is no different than anything else. It doesn’t seem like you can just insist that religion must be treated differently in these cases, but then insist that it must be treated like anything else in the other cases. You need to explain to me what the difference is if you want to maintain that argument.

      Also, at this point it looks like you can’t rely on arguing that there is no special right to religious freedom either, because the relevant right here — free speech — WON’T allow you to single out specifically religious speech for censure. So in order to justify a claim that the state must remain neutral about religion but doesn’t need to do so about Stoicism — either in terms of supporting or discouraging it — you seem to need to appeal to a right to religious freedom, likely starting from Blackford: non-government neutrality means taking sides about other worldly concerns, and a secular state ought not have an opinion about those things. But it’s from that point that I argue that it can’t, then, intervene even unintentionally.

      You can still argue, as you do above, that strong secular purpose trumps that. The problem you have here is that my view of religious freedom as a right allows for that without inconsistency. So our debate would boil down to specific, middle-ground cases, and not a major disagreement over the right, or the existence of it.

      Yes, and that is a fair complaint if the school is picking what can be displayed (since that amounts to adopting the content of the display).

      It had historical significance for the school, as I pointed out. Something else that had equal significance would be allowed. But again note that Ahlquist’s argument, as far as I can tell, was NOT that she wanted to provide something else and that it was rejected, but that it was there at all and so seemed to represent support for that religion. By your argument that religion is just another lifestyle choice, that sort of argument must fail.

      No. The school could promote any number of secular messages, since that is not an issue for neutrality.

      If the school considers it part of its mandate to promote community events, and religion is just another lifestyle choice like any other, then religious events are community events just like any other. Thus, if a school advertises events that might be of interest to the community, then religious events are also such and so must be equally promoted. This is the inverse of your argument about Ahlquist, as there you argued that it would be okay for them to post the prayer if they were willing to post secular poems and the like as well. The inverse, then, also has to be true: in any case where you would post a secular poster or advertisement as general interest, you have to post the religious one as well, if religion is just a lifestyle choice like anything else. And there is no other right you can appeal to that allows you to make that distinction.

      Not on religious matters, no. The people cannot vote to pick a church to be established.

      Um, that was my whole point: if you want religion to be treated like everything else, and under all of the existing rights, then the state would have to be allowed to do that to religion because it can do it for anything else. You need a special right to religious freedom to argue that it can do that for everything else EXCEPT religion. Or, in short, you can’t argue that religion is just like everything else on the one hand while on the other insisting that it has special properties that require that it be treated differently without a really good argument.

      For me, that argument is the right backed by the secular state argument of Blackford. What’s yours?

      If they do it on the basis of first-come-first-served or by a lottery or by any method that is religiously neutral then that’s fine.

      Saying “you don’t represent enough people in the community to warrant the space and resources used” IS religiously-neutral as long as they also apply it to my petition for a STOIC holiday display.

      Under the First Amendment, though, they cannot say “popular religions get preference, minority philosophical movements lose out”.

      You’re talking to a Canadian, and made reference to U.K. laws. Appealing to the First Amendment isn’t actually going to win you the argument here [grin]. But even here, you have to be appealing to a right to freedom of religion, not to something that applies to everything … and that was my point. So if you appealed to a different right, this would work as an argument, but since you have to appeal to a something explicitly tailored to express a right to freedom of religion, it doesn’t work so well.

    75. Coel Post author

      It doesn’t seem like you can just insist that religion must be treated differently in these cases, but then insist that it must be treated like anything else in the other cases. You need to explain to me what the difference is if you want to maintain that argument.

      From first principles:

      We have collectively decided that religion is an area of thought that the government should stay out. This implies Church–State separation, and it implies that the government must not have religious opinions, it must be neutral on such matters, and should neither want to advance religion nor to harm it. It should thus treat all citizens equally regardless of their religious opinions.

      From that basis it follows that a government agent, such as a school teacher, must not (while in that role) promote a religious opinion nor an anti-religious opinion. However, such a person could advance a Stoic philosophical opinion, since there is no prohibition on the government having opinions on secular philosophy.

      The government can, of course, still make laws and regulations for secular reasons; it can act with secular motives when making such rules, but cannot act with religious or anti-religious motive. As I see it, such rules need to apply to everyone equally. The government cannot give special exemptions and privileges to the religious. To do so would be favouritism towards religion.

      All of the above seems to be a consistent position to me, and it all stems from the government staying out of religious concerns and staying neutral on such matters.

      … because the relevant right here — free speech — WON’T allow you to single out specifically religious speech for censure.

      The government does not have free speech on this matter! (And, by extension, nor do those acting as state agents, such as school teachers.) The citizens have free speech on religious issues, but the government does not. The government is required to have no opinions on religion and thus to stay silent.

      So in order to justify a claim that the state must remain neutral about religion … you seem to need to appeal to a right to religious freedom, …

      Well, no, I’d actually start from the more basic claim that the state should stay out of religious matters and should treat all citizens equally regardless of their religious views.

      If the school considers it part of its mandate to promote community events, and religion is just another lifestyle choice like any other, then religious events are community events just like any other.

      But while *citizens* can make such lifestyle choices, the government may not. “Freedom of expression” and “freedom of religion” (like much of the Bill of Rights and similar declarations — sorry, I don’t know the Canadian equivalents!) are limitations on what the *government* can do, and are instructions to the government to stay out of certain areas — in this case, having religious opinions.

      … if you want religion to be treated like everything else, …

      I want religious lifestyle choices BY CITIZENS to be treated like any other (non-religious) lifestyle choices BY CITIZENS. I also want the state to stay neutral on such matters. It is entirely consistent to restrict the state, but not the citizenry. Indeed, that’s the essence of church–state separation.

    76. verbosestoic

      I want religious lifestyle choices BY CITIZENS to be treated like any other (non-religious) lifestyle choices BY CITIZENS. I also want the state to stay neutral on such matters. It is entirely consistent to restrict the state, but not the citizenry. Indeed, that’s the essence of church–state separation.

      Which is fine except that when we’re talking about the government make laws, we’re talking about STATE intervention, so that doesn’t cut it. You accept that the state has a special relationship to religion, and so even inadvertently making a law that means that people cannot pursue or express that religious thought seems to violate that, and so the state can only do it if it has no other choice, it seems to me. Thus, the state, by your own logic, seems to be bound to treat religion as something other than a simple lifestyle choice in all of its dealings that might impact it, and so we have to put religious accommodation on the table. Thus, we ought to be able to get down to brass tacks without getting distracted by the “second-class citizen” claim, as again laws are state action, and if the state has to exclude a religious practice from a law that’s no different than it having to exclude religious speech or promotion in government officials.

    77. Coel Post author

      You accept that the state has a special relationship to religion, …

      Only in the sense of being required to be neutral on such matters.

      … so even inadvertently making a law that means that people cannot pursue or express that religious thought seems to violate that, …

      No, in my opinion that does not violate the principle of neutrality. Indeed, were the state always stepping on egg-shells and tip-toeing around religious sensibilities, then *that* would be a violation of neutrality and equality, since one set of people would be being treated differently than others, getting far more consideration.

      if the state has to exclude a religious practice from a law that’s no different than it having to exclude religious speech or promotion in government officials.

      No, the latter is merely a restriction in the *state*. The former is treating one set of citizens differently from other citizens.

    78. verbosestoic

      Only in the sense of being required to be neutral on such matters.

      You accept that the state has a special relationship to religion … [grin].

      (I’m not sure why you felt the need to insert the disclaimer there.)

      No, in my opinion that does not violate the principle of neutrality.

      Why not? If the state is making a religion illegal through state action, those state actions AREN’T religiously neutral in impact. They may be in intent, but as soon as the state discovers that, yes, the law has that impact it can’t hide behind intent anymore, as they would have to explicitly say “Yes, we know that this makes your religion illegal … and we don’t care.”. But state neutrality HAS to care about making religions illegal, because that’s the main reason FOR the insistence on state neutrality, or at least one of them. So saying “we don’t care” here implies that they are okay with making a religion illegal … which hardly seems neutral.

      Indeed, were the state always stepping on egg-shells and tip-toeing around religious sensibilities …

      You have a penchant for rhetorical flourishes that, well, don’t actually make the arguments very clear. What “stepping on egg-shells” and “tip-toeing around religious sensibilities” do you think would be going on here? The typical procedure is that the state makes a law, a religion notices that it makes their religious practices illegal, they take it to court, and the court declares a reasonable accommodation. The law-makers, if they notice the violation, can write the accommodation into the original law if they wish. The only time this really changes is in the cases where the religious practices violate a right … but then religion is in the picture from the start.

      If anything, church-state separation as you view it forces state officials to do that, as they have to be very careful to avoid expressing any of their beliefs that might offend other religious positions … including non-religious and atheistic ones. Like the Ahlquist case, as I’ve talked about.

      No, the latter is merely a restriction in the *state*. The former is treating one set of citizens differently from other citizens.

      Government officials are citizens, and all rights treat one set of citizens differently from others, meaning that it treats the ones who need to exercise the right differently from those who don’t. So this line is utterly unconvincing.

    79. Coel Post author

      If the state is making a religion illegal through state action, those state actions AREN’T religiously neutral in impact. They may be in intent, …

      Yes, and to me the intent is what matters.

      as soon as the state discovers that, yes, the law has that impact it can’t hide behind intent anymore, as they would have to explicitly say “Yes, we know that this makes your religion illegal … and we don’t care.”.

      Exactly. And I’m fine with that. Government neutrality means not caring whether laws that are made for good secular reasons promote or inhibit religion. If they did care that would be giving privileges to religion, it would be “establishing” religion.

      But state neutrality HAS to care about making religions illegal, because that’s the main reason FOR the insistence on state neutrality, or at least one of them.

      No! The state neutrality, as I see it, comes from the basic premise of treating citizens equally. I do not accept that there is a fundamental right to “religious freedom” beyond anything entailed by free expression. To me, “religious freedom” is not primary; free expression and the equal citizenship of citizens are primary.

      If the state starts giving extra consideration to “religious” requests over secular ones, then that is violating equality, privileging the religious and indeed establishing religion.

      What “stepping on egg-shells” and “tip-toeing around religious sensibilities” do you think would be going on here?

      The giving of extra consideration to “this is my request, and it derives from my *religion*” over and above that granted to “this is my request, and it derives from my secular feelings”.

      Government officials are citizens, and all rights treat one set of citizens differently from others, meaning that it treats the ones who need to exercise the right differently from those who don’t. So this line is utterly unconvincing.

      Not at all! Citizens when acting as state agents lose rights! For example they lose the right to act partially! A judge in court is required to act impartially. A citizen is not.

    80. verbosestoic

      Yes, and to me the intent is what matters.

      Once you know what the effect of your actions are going to be, it’s quite hard to argue that you don’t intend for them to happen, unless you have no other reasonable choice. The heart of the religious accommodation line is that you must take reasonable options to avoid impeding that specific religion once you become aware that that is what you are going. I consider at least almost all of the things you cited as being reasonable options to maintain the secular goal while not infringing on the specific religious practice. This, to me, is consistent with the intent line. Your main reply has always been about privileging religious citizens, while being willing to privilege secular ones in other areas. This doesn’t hold, given this.

      You can try to argue that the state has no need to try to avoid infringing on religious practices, but this seems inconsistent with your starting point and seems more like neutrality in name, but not in practice.

      No! The state neutrality, as I see it, comes from the basic premise of treating citizens equally.

      Your implementation of that explicitly treats religious citizens differently from secular ones, in what it limits and what it allows them to do. So this argument simply doesn’t fly.

      If the state starts giving extra consideration to “religious” requests over secular ones, then that is violating equality, privileging the religious and indeed establishing religion.

      But your model EXPLICITLY gives privilege to secular positions over religious ones. Again, either the avalanche has already started, or else your view is only willing to privilege secular views and not religious ones.

      The giving of extra consideration to “this is my request, and it derives from my *religion*” over and above that granted to “this is my request, and it derives from my secular feelings”.

      Since when has considering the impacts of actions become “stepping on egg-shells” and “tip-toeing”? And, again, it already does that for religious citizens who happen to be government officials, as they are forced to self-censor to avoid happening to express their religious sentiments at the wrong time, and also having to wonder what religious things they can promote as a regular community event, and having to decide how religious an event can be before it is too religious to — by your own explicit argument – to promote on their “Community Events” bulletin board.

      Not at all! Citizens when acting as state agents lose rights! For example they lose the right to act partially! A judge in court is required to act impartially. A citizen is not.

      As I said in another comment, the distinction you draw is between secular and religious positions. None of these rights can justify making that distinction, and you need a right to trump the two rights — expression and equal treatment — that you use against my view of religious accommodation. Either way, you have to accept SOME kind of religiously specific right that can privilege the non-religious, and then it is reasonable to reply that then we can’t say that privileging the religious is in and of itself a problem with my position. We’d have to settle it on the basis that it is privileging them too much … but I don’t see the examples you’ve given as being that much of a privilege, and we agree on the egregious ones like FGM and human sacrifice.

    81. Coel Post author

      Your main reply has always been about privileging religious citizens, while being willing to privilege secular ones in other areas.

      Preventing *government* *agents* promoting religion (while allowing them to promote a secular idea) is not really a “privilege” for the secular person. The religious person can promote religious causes all they like — just not when acting with government authority.

      Your implementation of that explicitly treats religious citizens differently from secular ones, in what it limits and what it allows them to do.

      Not really, it only limits what they can do when acting with government authority. Effectively it is only limiting the government, not citizens.

      Since when has considering the impacts of actions become “stepping on egg-shells” and “tip-toeing”?

      When you seek to avoid adverse consequences to the sensibilities of the religious, but would not care if it were the sensibilities of the non-religious.

      you have to accept SOME kind of religiously specific right that can privilege the non-religious, …

      No, I simply maintain the stance that, in order for the state to treat all citizens equally, regardless of their religious views, government agents must stay out of religious matters, being neutral about religion.

    82. verbosestoic

      Preventing *government* *agents* promoting religion (while allowing them to promote a secular idea) is not really a “privilege” for the secular person.

      Sure it is, if you consider their deeply held secular beliefs as equivalent in terms of the desire to express them to religious beliefs. This means that they get to express those sorts of beliefs, and religious people can’t. Religious people have to walk on eggshells to ensure that they don’t INADVERTENTLY do that, while secular people don’t. Essentially, secular people get to do something that religious people can’t: express their deeply held beliefs in their role as government officials, even if those beliefs disagree with the official stance of the government. Since your whole argument against allowing accommodations in the law for religions is that it means that religious people get to do things that secular people don’t, this seems like a major inconsistency.

      Note that I’m not saying that this is the wrong interpretation, or that this restriction is unreasonable. I’m saying that in order to make this move, you need a specific right that allows you to distinguish religious views from non-religious ones, which means that it’s not a general right, but one that is religion specific.

      When you seek to avoid adverse consequences to the sensibilities of the religious, but would not care if it were the sensibilities of the non-religious.

      But your own position here seeks to avid adverse consequences to the sensibilities of the non-religious, but don’t care if it is the sensibilities of the religious. And I’d still call this merely being concerned about the impacts of your actions, which hardly rises to the level your rhetoric requires.

      No, I simply maintain the stance that, in order for the state to treat all citizens equally, regardless of their religious views, government agents must stay out of religious matters, being neutral about religion.

      So what would you appeal to against someone who says that, therefore, in order for them to be neutral all government agents must be non-religious, or at least they must be preferred to the extent that they can be?

    83. Coel Post author

      This means that they get to express those sorts of beliefs, and religious people can’t.

      But only when acting with government authority. They need only step out of that role to regain full freedom of expression.

      I’m saying that in order to make this move, you need a specific right that allows you to distinguish religious views from non-religious ones, …

      Yes, and that principle is church-state separation, whereas there is no secularity-state separation.

      So what would you appeal to against someone who says that, therefore, in order for them to be neutral all government agents must be non-religious, or at least they must be preferred to the extent that they can be?

      That would be treating religious citizens unequally, saying they could not perform some roles. That’s a clear violation of the principle of equality and indeed of the very basis of secularism (which is neutrality, not opposition to religion).

    84. verbosestoic

      But only when acting with government authority. They need only step out of that role to regain full freedom of expression.

      This … REALLY doesn’t help your case, because you can’t defend against a claim that you are discriminating against religious people by saying “But I only do it in THIS case, and not in others” [grin].

      That would be treating religious citizens unequally, saying they could not perform some roles. That’s a clear violation of the principle of equality and indeed of the very basis of secularism (which is neutrality, not opposition to religion).

      We discriminate against people if we have a good reason to do so. I’m pointing out that by your logic this seems like a reason, and one that is roughly equivalent to your reason for not letting them talk about their religion, and so you need an argument for why someone simply couldn’t reasonably make that argument.

  3. Anton Szautner

    “Note the “enlarge” as much as the “diminish”. The problem with the phrase “freedom of religion” is that it could be taken to imply that the religious have greater rights,” – in reference to Thomas Jefferson.

    That remains at once the most salient and most important issue on the disposition of ‘freedom of [religious] conviction’. It is telling that religious interests – such that avow virtuous conduct and honesty as if they invented it – should exploit it on an ambiguity that isn’t there.

    What an ironic and magnificent SHAME it bestows upon those who intentionally and rampantly misconstrue those words as a device to further a purported moral and ethical superiority. But then, of course, the target of the conman is always sweetest when aimed at the most gullible and uneducated. That crowd is resistant to reason: anyone who attempts the slightest redress in assisting and helping to educate such targeted people toward an independence of thought are automatically branded as agents against their freedom to be right…and will never accept the possibility – even under the acquisition of evidence or the LACK thereof – that they may be wrong. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, because it needs repeating: it is amazing how strongly a ‘mere’ belief in an omniscient and omnipotent god will invest believers with a god-like certitude and perceived power over others – in a form of culturally-protected insanity which is almost as impossible to address, let alone correct.

    What a terrible and pathetic state of affairs we find ourselves in when we cannot even begin to communicate with those who have abrogated their minds to the dictates of a religious/political machinery/ideology that promotes a mindset so devoid of logical thinking that anything outside of its scope is, by its very nature, never, ever, to be challenged. Most depressing when we are looking at over 90% of humanity, who are steadily marching to their collective doom. Let us focus on the profiteers who seek to inherit what’s left of the Earth: they who are actively establishing themselves AS gods may yet be marginally more open to reason than the legions who are reduced to praying to them.

    Reply
  4. Anton Szautner

    Ahhrgh…posted crude first draft instead of the finished. So sorry. I’ll leave the crude there as is – it ought to be clear enough to anyone who doesn’t find reason to pick it to bits. [drat]

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Can we please distinguish between speech and actions? | coelsblog

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