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Among the most hallowed precepts of American constitutional law is that the First Amendment builds a wall of separation between church and state. As many theorists have noted, however, the existence of this metaphorical wall raises the question of how a public-spirited citizen who is also religiously devout should conduct her affairs. In particular, if the citizen participates in a faith with a tradition of making demands on the citizen's conscience, how does the individual translate those demands into the secular political realm without breaching the wall?
The modem theorists of liberalism have either elided this question, by treating religion as one of the many prejudices that the citizen should cast aside, or thought the answer obvious, by insisting that religious dialogue has no place in the public square. The first approach is exemplified by the philosopher John Rawls, whose suggestion that principles of justice be derived from a hypothetical original position, behind a veil of ignorance about the characteristics one will have in the real world, has been the subject of criticism on the ground that many people cherish the very characteristics Rawls wishes to discard. The second approach is exemplified by my friend and colleague Bruce Ackerman, who dismisses from liberal dialogue arguments stated in religious terms because they are non-verifiable and non-neutral, and whose views have been criticized on the ground that they require citizens to shut off vital components of their personalities in order to retain access to the public square.
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