, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 271–283 | Cite as

The Politics of Judicial Public Reason: Secular Interests and Religious Rights



This paper seeks a better understanding of the role of public reason in alimenting or defusing religious conflicts by looking at how courts apply it in deciding cases arising out of them. Recent scholarship and judicial decisions suggest, paradoxically, that courts can be biased towards either the secular or the religious. This risks alienating both religious majorities and religious and secular minorities. Judicial public reason is uniquely equipped to protect minorities, and its costs to religious majorities may be mitigated by accepting religious morality and identity claims in the political and legislative realm. Despite the political fragilities of judicial public reason, it is not intrinsically hostile to religious claims. It ought in fact to be fully equipped to recognize the equality and religious freedom rights that religious groups and individuals might assert in pursuing exemptions from general secular laws. Judicial public reason does have the potential to defuse religious conflicts, however much it falls short in practice.


Rawls Public reason Religion Courts Constitutionalism Rights 


  1. Baur, M. (2004). On actualizing public reason. Fordham Law Review, 72, 2153–2175.Google Scholar
  2. Berkowitz, P. (2002). John Rawls and the liberal faith. The Wilson Quarterly, 26(2), 60–69.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, N., & Lombardi, C. (2006). The Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt on islamic law, veiling and civil rights: An annotated translation of Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt Case No. 8 of Judicial Year 17 (May 18, 1996). American University International Law Review, 21(3), 437–460.Google Scholar
  4. Dahlab v. Switzerland (2001). European court of human rights, case no. 42393/98.Google Scholar
  5. Dogru v. France (2008). European court of human rights, case no. 27058/05.Google Scholar
  6. Dreyfus, H., & Kelly, S. (2011). All things shining. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Dworkin, R. (2004). Rawls and the law. Fordham Law Review, 72, 1387–1405.Google Scholar
  8. Employment Division v. Smith (1990). United States Supreme Court, 494 U.S. 872.Google Scholar
  9. Gedicks, F. (2010). Truth and consequences: Mitt Romney, proposition 8 and public reason. Alabama Law Review, 61, 337–371.Google Scholar
  10. Greene, A. (2004). Constitutional reductionism, Rawls, and the religion clauses. Fordham Law Review, 72, 2089–2103.Google Scholar
  11. Greenawalt, K. (1994). On public reason. Chicago-Kent Law Review, 69, 669–689.Google Scholar
  12. Greenawalt, K. (2009). Religion and public reason: secularism, religion, and liberal democracy in the United States. Cardozo Law Review, 30, 2383–2400.Google Scholar
  13. Hirschl, R. (2000). “Negative” Rights vs. “Positive” Entitlements: a comparative study of judicial interpretations of rights in an emerging neo-liberal economic order. Human Rights Quarterly, 22(4), 1060–1098.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hirschl, R. (2008). The judicialization of megapolitics. Annual Review of Political Science, 1, 93–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hirschl, R. (2010). Constitutional theocracy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Kervanci v. France (2008). European Court of human rights, case no. 31645/04.Google Scholar
  17. Lautsi v. Italy (Lautsi I) (2009). European Court of human rights (Second Chamber), case no. 30814/06.Google Scholar
  18. Lautsi v. Italy (Lautsi II) (2011). European Court of human rights (Grand Chamber), case no. 30814/06.Google Scholar
  19. Mancini, S. (2011). Lautsi II: la rivincita della tolleranza preferenzialista. Quaderni costituzionali. Accessed 15 October 2011.
  20. Mannheimer, R. (2009). Crocifisso nelle aule: l’84% è favorevole. Corriere della Sera, 8 November 2009.Google Scholar
  21. Michelman, F. (2002). Relative constraint and public reason: what is ‘the Work We Expect of the Law’? Brooklyn Law Review, 67, 963–985.Google Scholar
  22. Muirhead, R., & Rosenblum, N. (2006). Political liberalism vs. “The Great Game of Politics”: The politics of political liberalism. Perspectives on Politics, 4(1), 99–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Nussbaum, M. (2008). Liberty of conscience. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  24. Penalver, E. (2007). Is public reason counterproductive? West Virginia Law Review, 110, 515–544.Google Scholar
  25. Perry v. Schwartzeneggar (2010). United States District Court for the Northern District of California, case No. 10-15649.Google Scholar
  26. Rawls, J. (1999). The idea of public reason revised. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Sahin v. Turkey (2005). European Court of Human Rights, case no. 44774/98.Google Scholar
  28. Shadid, A., & Kirkpatrick, D. (30 September 2011). Activists in Arab World Vie to Define Islamic State. New York Times. Accessed 30 September 2011.
  29. Smith, S. (2010). The disenchantment of secular discourse. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  30. States of Indiana, Virginia, Louisiana, Michigan, Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Idaho, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming as Amici Curiae (2010), Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of California in Civil Case No. 09-CV-2292 VRW (Perry v. Schwartzeneggar).Google Scholar
  31. Taylor, C. (2007). A secular age. Belknap: Cambridge.Google Scholar
  32. Urbinati, N. (2010). Laïcité in reverse: mono-religious democracies and the issue of religion in the public sphere. Constellations, 17(1), 4–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Varnum v. O’Brien (2009) Supreme court of Iowa, 763 N.W.2d 862.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political and Social SciencesJohn Cabot UniversityRomeItaly

Personalised recommendations