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“Aggressive” Secularism


As I’ve argued at length before, I think discussions of secularism in politics go astray when stable definitions of “secularism” aren’t offered at the outset (and then stuck to). Chait defines “political secularism” as “the notion that elections should not be contested on the basis of candidates’ religiosity.” But “secularism” is more commonly used in other contexts where its aggressiveness is easier to see.

Anyone who reads a lot in the religion-in-politics debate is likely to see charges that, for example, “Neuhaus and the theocons want to read their version of Christianity into the Constitution.” The charge is basically an inversion of the truth. The vast majority of people called “theocons” aren’t trying to get the Supreme Court to outlaw abortion; they want the issue to be resolved democratically. They’re not trying to get the Court to force states to implement voucher plans or install Nativity scenes. They believe that the Constitution makes it possible for legislatures to act in accordance with our convictions. The other side, which often speaks in the name of secularism, has moved–aggressively–to pre-empt debate on all of these issues.

Secularists, in this sense of the word, are “aggressive” both in attempting to rule out their opponents’ arguments from public discourse and in attempting to rule out their opponents’ policies from democratic debate.


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