The Priority of Public Reasons and Religious Forms of Life in Constitutional Democracies


  • Cristina Lafont



In this essay I address the difficult question of how citizens with conflicting religious and secular views can fulfill the democratic obligation of justifying the imposition of coercive policies to others with reasons that they can also accept. After discussing the difficulties of proposals that either exclude religious beliefs from public deliberation or include them without any restrictions, I argue instead for a policy of mutual accountability that imposes the same deliberative rights and obligations on all democratic citizens. The main advantage of this proposal is that it recognizes the right of all democratic citizens to adopt their own cognitive stance (whether religious or secular) in political deliberation in the public sphere without giving up on the democratic obligation to provide reasons acceptable to everyone to justify coercive policies with which all citizens must comply.


Arneson, Richard J. 2003. “Liberal Neutrality on the Good: An Autopsy”. In Perfectionism and Neutrality: Essays in Liberal Theory, edited by George Klosko and Steven Wall, 191–208. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Audi, Robert. 2000. Religious Commitment and Secular Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Dworkin, Ronald M. 2006. Justice in Robes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

Ebels-Duggan, Kyla. 2010. “The Beginning of Community: Politics in the Face of Disagreement”. The Philosophical Quarterly 60, no. 238: 50–71. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9213.2008.591.x.

Eberle, Christopher J. 2002. Religious Conviction in Liberal Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Eberle, Christopher J., and Terence Cuneo. 2008. “Religion and Political Theory”.

Gaus, Gerald. 1996. Justificatory Liberalism. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

—. 2011. The Order of Public Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Gutmann, Amy, and Dennis F. Thompson. 2004. Why Deliberative Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1996. Between Facts and Norms. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lafont, Cristina. forthcoming. “Religious Pluralism in a Deliberative Democracy”. In Secular or Post-secular Democracies in Europe? The Challenge of Religious Pluralism in the 21st Century, edited by Ferran Requejo Coll and Camil Ungureanu. London: Routledge.

—. 2017. “Citizens in Robes: The Place of Religion in Constitutional Democracies”. Philosophy & Social Criticism 43, no. 4-5: 453–64. doi:10.1177/0191453717695366.

—. 2017. “Religion in the Public Sphere”. In The Oxford Handbook on Secularism, edited by Phil Zuckerman and John Shook, 271–86. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1984. After Virtue. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Univ. Press.

—. 1988. Whose Justice? Which Rationality? Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Univ. Press.

—. 1990. Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry. Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Univ. Press.

Rawls, John. 1993. Political Liberalism. New York, NY: Columbia Univ. Press.

—. 1999. “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited”. In The Law of Peoples, 129–80. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

—. 2000. Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy. Edited by B. Herman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2000.

Raz, Joseph. 1986. The Morality of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Sandel, Michael J. 2005. Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

Sher, George. 1997. Beyond Neutrality: Perfectionism and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Weithman, Paul J. 2002. Religion and the Obligations of Citizenship. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. 1997. “The Role of Religion in Decision and Discussion of Political Issues”. In Religion in the Public Square, edited by Robert Audi and Nicholas Wolterstorff. London: Rowman & Littlefield.

—. 2012. The Mighty and the Almighty: An Essay in Political Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.



How to Cite

Lafont, Cristina. 2019. “The Priority of Public Reasons and Religious Forms of Life in Constitutional Democracies”. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 11 (4):45-60.



Special Issue - Habermas on Religion