I may have been ever-so-slightly curmudgeonly in my comments last night on those Cornerites who regretted that Romney had failed to list agnostics and atheists in his lists of fine Americans deserving of religious liberty. No, no, don’t try to absolve me. They sensed something that I hadn’t considered and that has emerged in David Brooks’s column today: namely, a theory of the speech that treats it as an attempt to rally all Christians (and maybe all religious people) against secularists in an endless culture war.
Frankly, I don’t think the speech will bear that interpretation. The religious liberty celebrated by Romney plainly entails the liberty to be non-religious. What Romney is opposing in those sections of the speech that seem to concern the culture wars is an obligation to be non-religious in the public square.
David’s arguments seems to be that if religious people were to unite against secularists to fight the their joint battles more effectively in the culture war, that would be an aggressive, divisive, and regrettable act. But that argument itself rests on the unstated assumption that the culture wars would stop if religious people stopped fighting them. In fact the culture wars began because the Left employed the courts to change America on everything from abortion to school prayer to gay marriage. This has not stopped. The obligation to be non-religious in the public square, though a very recent invention of liberal philosophers, is treated seriously in legal arguments and court decisions today.
So why shouldn’t religious people, while affirming the right to be non-religious, organize to defend their joint beliefs and interests in the way deplored by David?