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Arguing from faith

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | May 01, 2003

All perfectly true; Santorum did not make a "religious" argument.

But just for the sake of the discussion, suppose someone did introduce a political argument based solely on religious belief. Why should such an argument be excluded from public debates? We accept arguments based on self-interest, historical analysis, or (allegedly) scientific reasoning; why should we be willing to accept any basis for argument except religious belief?

Obviously someone who asserts a political position based on a religious doctrine cannot expect other citizens, who do not share his faith, to accept his position on the basis of religious authority alone. He'll have to make a logical, secular argument for his position.

I live in a town where a substantial minority of the residents belong to a religious sect (Seventh-Day Adventist) that opposes the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Until recently, this was a "dry" town; alchohol sales were banned. During a town-meeting debate on allowing alchohol sales, I sided with the Adventists-- not because I share their faith or their distaste for alcohol, but because I saw other persuasive reasons to continue the ban (to wit, the secondary costs that alchohol sales would likely impose on the community, mostly involving extra work for the police). It was clear that many people, in seeking to continue the ban, were motivated primarily by religious beliefs. But if their arguments were persuasive to a non-believer, why question their motivation?

My point here is that many people-- Richard Cohen, for instance-- seem anxious to impugn the motivations of any public actors who might be acting on the basis of religious belief. That's intolerance of a particularly nasty sort; it is, in effect, an attempt to impose a "religious test" on public officials-- an imposition that is specifically barred by the US Constitution. (The "religious test" in this case, of course, is passed only by those who show no particular interest in religion.)

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