Respect Is Not a Right: Secular Orthodoxy and the Liberty of Conscience

Although April’s “Gay March on Washington” was—in imitation of civil rights marches of the past—an attempt to bring the alleged grievances of homosexuals before the nation, the real struggle over the legitimacy of homosexuality, like battles over pornography, is, and will continue to be, local. The rebellion of the local school board of District 24, in Queens, New York, against the New York City Board of Education and Chancellor Joseph Fernandez is an example of its local nature.

Originally, the conflict in New York City arose over the refusal of the local school board to implement the new, multicultural “Rainbow Curriculum” in the elementary grades. According to the New York Times, the curriculum urges teachers “to use books, games and other lessons… to teach first graders ‘to view lesbians/gays as real people to be respected and appreciated.’ ” Mary Cummins, the head of the local board, called the curriculum “dangerously misleading homosexual/lesbian propaganda.”

New York City parents justifiably were concerned about the manner, as well as the agenda, of their children’s instruction. In early childhood education, the alleged distinction between a person and lifestyle is disingenuous. The true purpose of having children ignore the lifestyle and accept the person is to have them, in time, accept the lifestyle. Indeed, the distinction must collapse when all “lifestyles” become equally acceptable. Indisputably, this is the agenda of homosexual interest groups, and it was reflected in the response of Chancellor Fernandez:

I am truly saddened that we have come to this, saddened by the irony that teaching children the fourth ‘R’—respect for their neighbors and themselves—has brought on the hateful condemnations that I have heard and read.

Fernandez lost the battle, and, as events proved, his job. But the war has only just begun, and recent local school board elections in New York City have revolved around this single issue. Indeed, a surprising and significant political alliance between Catholics and evangelical Protestants has developed. Where once they were divided by sectarian, cultural, and local differences, they now see that they share a common religious and moral tradition that divides them from the new orthodoxies of the journalistic, academic, and intellectual elites of American society. Not to put too fine a point on it, the “progressive” orthodoxies appear to the tradition as moral decay of the most serious sort. To the extent that elites are setting not only the cultural agenda, but the political and social agendas as well, the deepest social and political fissures are opening in American life. As Milton Himmelfarb, writing as a Jew, has observed,

The trouble is not that religion in general has too small a role in American public life. The trouble is that a particular religion has too great a role—paganism, the de facto established religion.

As a Jew, I am sympathetic with Himmelfarb’s characterization, but the truth is that this is the development of a new secular moral orthodoxy—pagan morality but without gods. My purpose here is to outline the new “moral orthodoxy” of equal respect for “lifestyles” that never before have been respectable; to show how this orthodoxy relies upon dangerous confusions of terminology; and to examine the threat this new orthodoxy poses to republican constitutionalism and to religious liberty itself. My task is complicated by the fact that moral discourse, by its very ubiquitousness, tends to blur vital distinctions. Thus, the new orthodoxy of equal respect for other lifestyles seems—but only seems—to be a variant of toleration, one of the principal American virtues. Toleration we may define as the acknowledgement of the great natural—some might say moral—right of liberty of conscience. To accord “equal respect” to different lifestyles or to different opinions about acceptable moral behavior appears, then, to acknowledge that everyone has a right to liberty of conscience. The dispute over the Rainbow Curriculum—and over “alternate lifestyles” in general—might thus appear to be best understood as a quarrel between different dictates of conscience, with government as a benign judge taking the side of tolerance, that is, of equal respect.

But we must reason carefully: the conflict is, indeed, in the classic mold, but government is not a benign or neutral judge. In fact, the conflict is between liberty of conscience and government enforcement or establishment of doctrine. In other words, the conflict manifestly is not between religious dissent and religious orthodoxy, but between received religious traditions and a new secular moral orthodoxy that has assumed the language of “rights.” This fact becomes apparent in examining, first, the essential features and difficulties of the new orthodoxy, and second, the implicit conflict between the new orthodoxy and the traditional understanding of the right to liberty of conscience.

The Secular Orthodoxy

It is useful to conceive of the new orthodoxy as a tripod of moral assumptions: The first leg is inherent individual worth, or unconditional human dignity; the second leg is inviolate moral personality, or moral autonomy; and the third leg is the aforementioned right to equal concern and respect. This has a special claim because, though it is the most recent to be formulated, it completes the tripod and thereby allows the orthodoxy to stand of its own. This is not simply the moral nostrum that everyone should be accorded respect, but the assertion that everyone has a right to equal respect, a notion elaborated as a doctrine by Ronald Dworkin’s interpretation of John Rawls’ theory of justice as “fairness.” Dworkin’s formulation of a “right to equal concern and respect” as the most fundamental—and most radically egalitarian—right is what the new wisdom requires politically and legally. It is this sense of radical moral equality that is the animating and justifying force behind multiculturalism and the homosexual rights movement. Its force is also felt in the extraordinarily expansive reading of the right to privacy.

The first two notions—inherent worth and moral autonomy—resonate deeply, one might even say piously, throughout American life. They have the status of endoxa, and to examine them candidly may be grounds for suspicion that one is subverting the civic religion. Also, the three notions are, of course, interrelated conceptually: Because of inherent worth, each person is equally worthy of respect; and because inherent worth is also said by definition not to be owed to anything external—good fortune, the teachings of religious tradition, or the gifts of nature and convention—each individual is possessed of an inviolate moral personality and, in principle at least, is an autonomous moral agent possessed of a unique vision of the good. This combination of related but inchoate opinions constitutes the new secular moral orthodoxy. It is primarily a doctrine of radical equality, and its widespread, unquestioned acceptance reflects the egalitarian ethos of the times.

Is “Dignity” Unconditional?

Inherent worth, or the unconditional dignity of individuals, is one of the major rhetorical tropes of modern times, and to dissent is to be at serious risk of being declared an outcast. The difficulty in the notion, however, is that it is used so indiscriminately in behalf of quite opposite opinions. For example, fetuses should not be aborted because abortion is an offense against the unborn’s human dignity; however, to proscribe a woman’s “right to choose” is an offense against her inherent worth and dignity. To assent to the notion of unconditional dignity and inherent worth therefore requires discriminating reflection.

In what human dignity consists is a weighty question. Even the biblical answer is not unequivocal. The double story of human creation in the Bible—in the image of God yet from the dust of the earth—is an invitation to reflection. The philosophical approach to the question requires inquiring both “What is man?” and “What is the highest or best kind of life?” Even to deny that there is a “best” and “highest” requires such a twofold inquiry if it is to escape mere egalitarian prejudice.

One of the inherent tensions in the notion of inherent worth and unconditional dignity is that it denies common moral sense. Is “lifestyle” irrelevant to any consideration of worth and dignity? The conventional wisdom—the wisdom now under assault from the new orthodoxy—recognizes an inherent but conditional human dignity. Conditional, that is, precisely on how one lives, that is on lifestyle. (“Lifestyle” is one of those Orwellian pseudo-social-science euphemisms, presumably free of value judgment. Another is “sexual orientation,” as if we humans were as helpless in our conduct as moths in a pheromone spray).

According to this older wisdom, one condition of worth or dignity is not to be enslaved to passions of all kinds—anger, envy, etc., but most particularly the erotic passions, even more especially the perverse passions.

The erotic passions are brought under the conditions placed on dignity by being sanctified—and I use this term to signify customs and rituals, set apart as neither merely natural nor merely customary. That is to say, the erotic is bound by divine sanction to procreation and the rearing of children in a family, to the multigenerational fabrics of society, and to the connection between and within families, families to communities, and communities to the polity. This is, of course, the original meaning of religion—i.e., a bond at once to one’s community and to the divine. It is true that pagan religion sanctifies even the orgiastic, but the philosophic opposition to this dates at least to Plato’s Laws, and the Bible’s well-known opposition to idolatry is of even greater antiquity.

It is worth asking: Why, until comparatively recent times, have all civilized cultures believed human eroticism to belong properly to the realm of the private? I suggest that there are two answers: All human erotic couplings, but especially the polymorphous or homoerotic, when considered dispassionately, are essentially comic when compared to the dignity of the upright human form and its possibilities in the public realm: the political and heroic; religion; teaching and learning; work; tragic and heroic drama. Considered passionately, however, all human eroticism releases powerful feelings of shame. For these two reasons—fear of ridicule and shame, that is, humiliation and the loss of dignity—the older wisdom required that the erotic passions be kept private.

Shame and Civility

The sense of shame performs a vital function for civility: it keeps us from being the subject of the comic, from being distanced from society, and it makes us seek and honor the human actions to which dignity attaches, according to their rank. Dignity itself is a term of distinction, in the first instance from the shameful. Unconditional dignity becomes a possibility only when the line between the public and the private is obliterated, that is, when the shameful is transformed.

If homosexuality is to become publicly acceptable, therefore, the definition of the shameful would have to be transformed. (Shame itself cannot be eradicated because it is rooted in our blushing social nature; that is, it is not merely a state of mind, but an appearance to others.) Ours has become an age of intense sophistry about shame. Today, nothing is held to be shameful except discrimination. This is because discrimination (and disrespect) are imputations of inequality—of treating persons unequally, and nothing more offends the egalitarian orthodoxy. But can there be any human dignity without discrimination? (I do not mean the invidious discrimination of blind prejudice, but a certain reasoned discrimination that refuses to be bullied into accepting all lifestyles equally—that is, indiscriminately.)

Behind the new orthodoxy’s required transformation of the shameful lies this argument: shame is merely of cultural origin and societal disapprobation reflects an unhealthy society. Only an unhealthy society robs people of their (unconditional) dignity by trapping them in shame, by making them comic, humiliated, and ridiculous, and thereby giving them a false sense of themselves caused by others. According to this view, shame is in the eye of the beholder, a false judgment by others, and is not determinative of one’s true self-worth. But, so this argument runs, we all are trapped in a false sense of self-worth caused by an unhealthy society because we all depend on the good opinion of others, and thus we all make judgments about ourselves that give us a false self-consciousness. In this sense, we all are “inauthentic.” This kind of “false consciousness” is said to be an essential crime of bourgeois society. According to this view in order to achieve true recognition by others of one’s inherent worth, society itself must be reformed.

An unresolved but perhaps pertinent question with regard to the transformation of the shameful is whether homosexuality is a biological imperative and thus not sanctionable by conventional morality. In the New York Times, Anthony Lewis has written, “Those who are truly religious might understand that God made people as they are.” But we resist and condemn other biological imperatives. For example, the sexual abuse of children, or rape, may be, in some way not yet fully known to us, biological imperatives, but even if they were, neither act could be morally or legally excused. Conversely, both chastity and abortion are acts that defy specific biological imperatives. Obviously, the actual explanation of the search for evidence from biology that homosexuality is an imperative is psychological: the alleged trauma of having to live a double life, and the homosexual’s need for self-esteem or recognition—free of judgment—of essential worth.

The Self-defined Self

The need for recognition of one’s true self-worth leads us to the second leg of the tripod, moral autonomy, or the truly moral, authentically self-defined self, free of false self-consciousness.

Moral autonomy, or moral personality, in its fullest formulation by Kant, means that a human being is self-legislating, but that the law each makes for oneself, as a rational being, is itself rational in the sense that it possesses the qualities of a universal law—i.e., that it is a categorical imperative. It is thus the same law for all. Consequently, moral autonomy cannot mean an arbitrary, and variable, morality. Moreover, a self-legislating person would be truly independent, i.e., not dependent on the recognition of others. But today, moral autonomy has been reduced to the notion that each person has a unique conception of the good that, somehow, is the very center of one’s so-called inviolable moral personality. Indeed, the right to equal respect is intended as a guarantee of each person’s civil right to an individual conception of the good, that is, of self-esteem and self-worth.

But this understanding of autonomy cannot escape the conundrum that it depends on recognition by others. Moreover, to speak of humans as morally autonomous seems not to take into account our uncertain knowledge of human development, or how biology and society are related, or the contradictory evidence of human history. This connection of moral autonomy both to erotic license and to the need for self-esteem may well be evidence of a state of perpetual adolescence. Perhaps the academic moral philosophers mistake for society those foci of perpetual adolescence, the erotic free-enterprise zones of the university and certain kinds of urban life.

Curiously, though moral philosophers today assume moral autonomy to be axiomatic, they do not insist on the primacy of reason. When compared with Kant’s view, the conception of reason today is in a pickle, so to speak, and is preserved as a specimen in a potent brine of dogmatic skepticism. Unfortunately, rationality at best secures a formal universality, and is opposed to the equality of other conceptions of the good. Today, the moral philosopher insists on “recognition,” the universality of psychological neediness, the need for self-esteem, and the imperative of correcting this deprivation by compelling respect for the needy. Moral autonomy has thus become a mixture of sentiment and will, of compassion and anger.

Is Respect a Right?

What, finally, should we make of the so-called right to equal concern and respect?

On the one hand, “respect” is used in the psychological sense of recognition of equal worth. On the other, it retains its traditional meaning: a “second look” at something worthy beyond the ordinary, something unequal. But recognition implies a conundrum—our self-respect requires the free recognition of others of our worth, while no one is yet worthy of granting it. Accordingly, the new orthodoxy holds, the term must be purged of its apparently specious inequality, which entails the implicit secular eschatology, or millenarianism, of this moral doctrine. In the imperfect present I have a false sense of myself and am enslaved to the equally specious good opinion of others; in the good society, however—the one I am duty bound to bring about—we all would have proper self-esteem and become truly morally autonomous. When that day comes, there would exist a true community of the morally autonomous, all mutually and freely recognizing the inherent, unconditional dignity of others.

Meanwhile, as long as any are left out and are wounded in their self-esteem because of being unequally respected, there cannot be justice. And so, to become a just community, the law must see to it that the rights and obligations of equal respect are enforced. Since, in principle, everyone is alleged to have a right to equal respect, it must be compelled by law. The law then becomes the instrument of “progressive” thought, that is, of a secular eschatology, and no longer is simply the instrument of an imperfect justice in the here and now, but the anvil on which the future of humanity is forged.

But this new orthodoxy also means that a right to equal concern and respect in the here and now cannot be distinguished from the problem it is meant to cure. How can respect be worth anything if it is compelled? I may be compelled, but I do not assent; you may have the satisfaction of my coerced compliance, but not of my recognition. It therefore is not the true recognition of worth that you require. This suggests the importance of the Rainbow Curriculum, and all such orthodoxies: my respect may be worthless because compelled, but my children, the children of the unenlightened, correctly instructed by the enlightened and virtuous, will be made of finer stuff.

It is apparent, then, that the postulated right to equal respect is not founded on the principle that we are rational beings; rather it is what used to be called a mere rationalization, i.e., a placebo for a sick self-esteem. It appropriates the tradition of philosophic idealism, of man as an end in himself, in behalf of private pleasures. It is, in fact, the ultimate utilitarian argument clothed in idealism: I cannot set conditions on another’s worth, lest he set conditions on mine: thus we are all off the hook. Above all, the right to equal respect is a claim to be exonerated in advance from the disapprobation of others. But the nasty truth about equal respect is that it is perfectly compatible with contempt for those who do not “buy in.” Because of its millenarianism, it requires disrespect for the opinions of mankind in the here and now.

And what should we make of the teachers of equal respect? Because the capacity for reason, or intelligence, is distributed unequally, a crypto-aristocracy under the guise of egalitarianism has developed: the philosophical “equalizers” (to use Harvey Mansfield’s language), who possess greater intelligence, rule those they “equalize.” Unlike Plato’s Republic, where the philosophers had to be compelled to rule, today’s philosophers are the self-appointed vanguard of humanity, selflessly denying, on principle, that they are worthy of unequal respect, while asserting their right to rule.

Liberty of Conscience

Even if the core notion of moral autonomy is inchoate, the right to equal concern and respect is hungrily seized upon. Weak identity and self-esteem are perhaps endemic to liberal democratic, industrial societies. Perhaps this is why the right to respect seems so “American.”

More significantly, respect sails under the flag of rights, the banner that America unfurled before the world. Here, especially, the blurred distinction between the rights to liberty of conscience and to equal respect clouds the view. Given the apparently limitless elasticity of conscience, which has become synonymous with each individual’s conception of the good, perhaps it would be better to abandon it as an empty term, like dignity.

It has not always been so, of course. James Madison, the architect of the Bill of Rights, thought the right of liberty of conscience so important that in his great speech to the House of Representatives of June 8, 1789, he argued, unsuccessfully, for its inclusion in the Constitution as a barrier to the infringement of religious liberty both by the States and the “general” government. In the famous A Memorial and Remonstrance of 1785, his decisive writing on the subject, Madison makes the case for the natural right to the liberty of conscience:

The Religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable; because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men.

According to Madison, liberty of conscience is unlike the other great natural rights because it is the only one not limited when carried over into civil society, where it remains unaltered and entire. “We maintain,” he wrote, “that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society, and that religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.” By contrast, our unlimited but tenuous claims to the other natural rights found in the Declaration of Independence—”life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—can be secured only by consenting to the necessary limitations of civil society and government. Both conscience and the other natural rights are unlike the right to equal concern and respect, which, because the latter is millennial, has not yet come to be in our unenlightened and imperfect civil society.

Conscience and Religion

Unlike a right to equal respect, conscience, in the Framer’s sense, though autonomous, nevertheless is dependent on the prior existence of custom and religion. When Madison noted that “the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men,” he did not mean that everything is permitted, or that a man might choose to live however he pleased, or that he has the right to do whatever he wishes so long as he does no harm (a principle, by the way, that assumes that a person either can foresee the remote consequences of his actions or is not responsible for them). Madison did not mean moral autonomy in the modern sense, but, quite to the contrary, the autonomy of reasonable men to consent to religious confessions of their own choosing.

In the choice of religious confession, belief, and practice, Madison said, no one can be dictated to by another. Though radically antinomian possibilities may be inferred, Madison did not wish to undermine religion; rather, he wished to spread its practice in a multiplicity of sects. This fact is a key to Madison’s constitutional thought, which addressed the problem of creating majority rule while obviating the tendency toward majority faction, a point that permeates A Memorial and Remonstrance. Madison’s purpose was not to get his moral philosophy systematically correct, or to meet some academic test of what constitutes a right, or to provide a rational basis for jurisprudence, but to take into account those elements of human nature—such as the passionate attachment to religion—without which there could be no secure foundation for political liberty.

Having a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, Madison understood that conscience must be instructed, as is implicit in the very etymology of the world (“with knowledge”). Conscience assumes that, though there may be an innate sense that there is a difference between right and wrong (men blush and know shame naturally) the knowledge in detail of what is right or wrong is beholden to the traditions and customs—the religious character—of human society.

Liberty of conscience in the old sense lives by an impassioned but prudential bond between religious faith and the autonomy of reason. Conscience, in its immediate and common sense, is “the voice within” that tells us that we have done wrong, or that we are about to act wrongly. In this sense, it is an implicit setting of conditions on our dignity. To say that conscience depends on custom and religion implies the bond of an individual to a community of persons who have accepted and assumed the same conditions and limitations on human dignity. It is one of the “givens” of the Framers’ new science of political liberty.

The idea of moral autonomy, however, particularly in its present corrupt form, is like a virus destroying the bond between the autonomy of reason and the moral beholdenness that characterizes liberty of conscience. Moral autonomy assumes an essentially nonsocial individual who sets his own conditions; in the philosophically richest sense, these conditions may be rational moral rules that are universalizable and therefore shared. By this principle, the individual is bound to all of humanity as rational beings, and therefore rejects ties to particular communities precisely because they are parochial. As cosmopolitan, this individual is also unpolitical because he is not an interested (in the old sense) partisan of a particular community; he places respect for the rule of law above politics and prefers benevolent civil administration to messy self-government. It is here that we arrive at the strange “communities” of the autonomous that have arisen from the ashes of moral convention; for, paradoxically, this breed of morally autonomous individuals seeks its identity in particular (non-reproducing, yet biological) communities. What are the bonds of the nonrational, morally autonomous person, to a particular community? In the gay, lesbian, and radical feminist communities, for example, the bonds are the equality of psychological neediness, the need for recognition in behalf of respect or self-esteem. But what of the other bonds, of erotic polymorphism, paranoia, and rage? Are they not the antitheses of dignity and autonomy?

Common sense tells us that what we cannot respect in ourselves, we will not respect in others. There is no blanket respect: it is of the essence of respect, properly understood to make distinctions and to discriminate. We may respect some of the achievements of another individual, as well as some aspects of his life, but not necessarily all. Nor should we feel “guilty” that we discriminate in this sense. Liberty of conscience, in the old sense, as a bond to a community that sets conditions on dignity, is nothing other than a discrimination between what is worthy and what is not. It is, therefore, substantively at war with the indiscriminate right of equal concern and respect.

Coercive Autonomy

Having done great, possibly fatal, damage to the moral immune system, the new inchoate autonomy has moved on to the body politic. We may trace the course of the disease constitutionally, beginning with the new interpretation of the First Amendment, whose religion clause always has been the civil home of the natural right of the liberty of conscience. Freedom of religion, however, has been replaced by freedom from religion. When Madison drafted the Amendment—that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion”—he was governed by his constitutional thought. He did not write in the millenarian belief that religion would wither away to be replaced by a race of morally autonomous individuals. Yet freedom from religion, under the guise of autonomy, is itself the establishment of the new orthodoxy.

Moral autonomy as the summum bonum requires that the judiciary—allegedly the embodiment of the unequal reason of the equalizers—be substituted for legislative or constitutional majorities. This is because, since the conscience of the unenlightened does not willingly grant equal concern and respect, the granting must be exacted from them by the law.

An even more constitutionally pernicious form of moral compulsion in the name of rights is the further weakening of American federalism. If there can be no security for religious conscience where we live, the American experiment is in danger from an eruption of religious strife. Now, because of a national majority faction, this strife will take a post-liberal, or secular versus religious form. This is exactly the evil that Madison sought to obviate. With the beginnings of rebellion already in view, civil disobedience will only gather strength.

The war of the autonomous enlighteners against the morally beholden unenlightened requires that the young be indoctrinated. This is the real meaning of the “Rainbow Curriculum.” But such indoctrination is deeply paradoxical because, in effect, it is a new attempt to inform conscience along the lines of moral autonomy and the right of equal concern and respect. If, however, that “right” truly depends on dissolving the bonds between the autonomy of reason and moral beholdenness, can this be a matter of conscience? What would such a person be like, who has a conscience instructed to deny the principle of conscience?

The answer is that the new, morally autonomous person is all privacy, with the line between public and private erased. What is represented as a “right of privacy” actually is a public shamelessness about the most private matters. We should not be surprised, then, that the equal right to privacy has assumed a preeminent place in the American pantheon. The right to privacy takes the place of conscience, or may even have become its post-liberal form: unstable, uninstructed, and unformed, but filled with hedonistic will. Conscience, rightly understood, holds that the moral limits in our private and public lives are the same: it is the bond of reliability between the private and the public. Privacy, however, declares, “What I do is my own damn business and no one else’s.” In the newly-construed voice of “conscience” it adds, “Who am I to tell someone else how to live?”—but, resisting conscience, it also says, “Who is anyone else to tell me? By what right?” Privacy now is a very public slap in the face.

This new person is endlessly concerned with dignity, which he identifies with his existence simply. He takes “rights” as virtually the whole of his moral horizon, but in fact he lives wholly for his pleasures, comfort, and convenience. Aborting fetuses and euthanizing the elderly because both are inconvenient, he dignifies these acts as expressing moral autonomy and dignity. Privacy is therefore the ultimate dream of security: security in one’s pleasures because they are no longer vices; security in one’s identity since, in the eyes of the other, and therefore in his own, he is by right unquestionably worthy and deserving of respect; and finally, security in the knowledge that he will be looked after, regardless of how he has abused his body, because the right to equal “concern” in practice means public entitlement. The only grounds for guilt is in the failure to show unconditional respect for others; but he can live with that guilt. Privately, he knows he cannot be compelled to respect others, while publicly he can receive praise—and thus recognition—for his “toleration,” and for expressing his indignation at the lack of respect shown by some for other “lifestyles.” At the end of the road to the destruction of bourgeois morality we find—the bourgeois, but devoid of morality.

Civility, Not Respect

Although something like respect is vitally necessary, true respect seems to have been confused with civility. Civility is a formal, but provisional, respect that we grant to all, reserving the right to be disappointed. Beyond civility is tolerance, or the good sense that we must live with differences that we do not necessarily respect. The fact that toleration requires that I grant to another the equality of his beliefs with mine, must not be confused with equal respect for those beliefs. That is, respect and toleration must not be confused. I grant the equality that toleration requires in order to secure my own liberty of religious practice. Toleration, like civility, is a political, not a moral virtue, bred of prudence, and in turn nurturing it.

In sum, to raise toleration to unconditional respect based on unconditional dignity and to exact it legally—to compel it by legislation and to indoctrinate children away from parental standards—is to court a quite justifiable religious outrage and rebellion. That way lies folly.


  • Robert A. Licht

    Robert A. Licht edited Old Rights and New and Is the Supreme Court the Guardian of the Constitution? (Both from AEI Press).

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