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Let me start by putting my topic in a concrete context. Suppose a statute is offered to relieve animals of the oppressively cramped conditions of modern factory farming. Advocates claim that calves, lambs, pigs, and chickens should have a better quality of life before being slaughtered for food. Opponents argue that factory farming helps provide tasty, inexpensive meat and that farmers should be free to decide how to treat animals that they own. At stake in the decision whether to restrict farmers is some balancing of animal interests against human interests. In our relatively wealthy society the human interests are not overwhelming; no one will starve if factory farming is curbed. Among the animal interests, free movement and contact with other animals rank as important considerations. If human interests rightly count for much, much more than animal interests, sacrificing important animal interests for moderate human interests makes sense.

In resolving the issue, one must face the question how heavily animal interests should count. Very roughly, people may arrive at conclusions about this question based on reasoned argument and personal feelings. People may also rely on religious convictions they hold, convictions that help set the place of animals and human beings in a broader context. Religious perspectives might lead someone to believe animals deserve great consideration. Conversely, they might lead someone else to suppose that animals exist only to serve human welfare. We can quickly see how different religious perspectives could affect views about restricting factory farming.

Do these religious convictions have an appropriate place in our political life? Before responding, I need to draw two distinctions. One is between private individuals and public officials. Perhaps civility in a pluralist liberal democracy only concerns public officials and their actions. The other distinction is between mere reliance on religious convictions and public argument in those terms. Perhaps religious arguments are inappropriate, even if votes or political activities based on religious grounds are valid. A comprehensive approach to the larger question, namely whether religious convictions should lay a part in our political life, must address citizens and officials, reliance and public argument.


Law | Law and Politics | Religion Law


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