Is it appropriate to restrict abortion at any stage in pregnancy on the ground that human life is sacred? Should the public square be open to biblical arguments against homosexuality? Or, to frame the issue in a more scholarly fashion: What role may religious arguments play, if any, either in public debate about what political choices to make or as the private basis of a political choice? In his recent book, Religion in Politics: Constitutional and Moral Perspectives, Michael Perry addresses these questions as a matter of constitutional law and political morality. Perry has been down this road before, most notably in his 1991 book, Love and Power. This new effort represents both a response to scholarly criticism of Love and Power and a reflection of Perry's "rethinking" the problem of religion in politics. Ultimately, Perry concludes that religious-based political advocacy is always constitutional, and usually moral as well. This distinguishes Perry from the more exclusionary theories of scholars like Robert Audi and Richard Rorty who would severely restrict the religious voice in political debate, or remove it altogether. Perry draws the line, however, when it comes to relying on religious arguments regarding human well-being (what must-or must not-be done in order for humans to flourish): these religious arguments (for example, arguments against homosexual sexual conduct) are not an appropriate basis for making a political choice unless that choice is also supported by a persuasive secular rationale. Thus, Perry stakes out a position somewhere between unfettered inclusion and complete exclusion of religious arguments from political debate and decision making. In the process, Perry provides the reader with a nuanced and reasonable approach to a rather complicated set of issues. In fact, Perry's approach may be too nuanced and too reasonable: his constitutional and moral theories contain important caveats that are difficult to reconcile with his overarching principles. Also, Perry's vision of reasonable religious dialogue seems but a shadow of the impassioned rhetoric that characterized the historic speeches of the religious abolitionists and currently pervades the debates over abortion and homosexuality-Perry's paradigmatic instances of moral debates. In his attempt to civilize religion, Perry may have excised those arguments that are distinctively religious on subjects of critical concern to many religious believers. These, however, are but minor criticisms. Religion in Politics is a thoughtful and important addition to Perry's previous work on the religious voice in the public square and it deserves a careful reading by anyone interested in the subject.
Kurt T. Lash, Civilizing Religion, 65 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 1100 (1997) (Reviewing Michael J. Perry, Religion in Politics: Constitutional and Moral Perspectives).