Religious Faith and Liberal Democracy
Michael J. Perry
Cambridge University Press, $22, 200 pp.
Michael Perry’s new book is a refreshing contribution to the often overwrought debate about the role of religion in American democracy. Perry offers hope for Catholics pained by the embarrassed, dismissive reaction to religiously based arguments in the public square, but also dismayed by Vatican pronouncements, such as the recent one on same-sex unions, that seem to confirm prejudices about Catholic intellectual narrowness and moral indifference to the complexity of such issues. Perry both justifies the use of arguments from religion in politics and suggests how Catholics may mediate the claims of the magisterium in a liberal democracy. His balanced approach, equally respectful of the claims of religion and the liberal tradition, offers a way out of this dilemma. For followers of Perry, now a professor of law at Emory, Under God? may be a surprise, because it marks a sharp break from his previous books, Love and Power: The Role of Religion and Morality in American Politics (1991) and Religion and Politics: Constitutional and Moral Perspectives (1997). In those earlier works Perry argued forcefully for the exclusion of religious belief and discourse in politics. He has now changed his mind. An inclusionist, he explains, believes that religion may play a significant role in politics, while an exclusionist believes that religious faith should be excluded from it. This distinction, he points out, does not track the distinction between believers and...