Public reason and religious arguments

Can religious arguments legitimately be used in public discourse? In recent years, philosophical discussions of this question have focused on the concept of public reason, which is a normative concept in liberal democratic theory, specifying which arguments should and should not be used in public discourse. It is often taken to exclude religious arguments. In this dissertation, I take issue with theories of public reason and the far-reaching degree of self-restraint they expect citizens and office-holders to exercise. My argument aims to show that religious arguments should be given much more space in public discourse than many proponents of public reason are prepared to grant. I argue that even those proponents of public reason who in their theories seek to avoid placing undue demands on religious believers, do impose considerable restrictions on the use of religious arguments. The argument on which such restrictions are based, the argument from coercion, is, I suggest, convincing only in the case of office-holders but not in the case of citizens. I therefore propose to distinguish between citizens and office-holders when considering self-restraint. Citizens should be (morally) free to use religious arguments, whereas office-holders should be expected to exercise self-restraint with respect to religious arguments. Members of Parliament of religious parties should, though, be exempt from this requirement because of their duty to represent religious citizens. Contrary to popular belief, most religious parties do not conflict with principles of liberal democracy, and those that do should be tolerated.
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