Toleration without relativism

Power Line reader and former Mormon Kenneth Anderson, writing in the Weekly Standard, pauses to “consider what damage the evangelical goading, and Romney’s response to it, have wrought upon the possibility of pluralism in political America.” Anderson finds the damage considerable.
The core question raised by the evangelicals and addressed by Romney is: when it comes to religion and religious belief, what should voters allow themselves to inquire of a candidate for public office, especially the presidency? The evangelicals answer seems to be “anything goes” (except perhaps for Mike Huckabee’s sermons). Romney’s answer was to deny that citizens might ever legitimately demand to know the content of religious doctrines professed by a candidate for public office (while at the same time assuring the audience that he believes “Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind”).
Anderson finds both answers “dispiriting.” In his view, the first violates the principle of toleration — that “virtuous people forbear wherever possible from demanding that religious people choose between their public self and their god;” the second is multiculturalist and relativist in implication. It would leave a Muslim candidate, for example, free to duck questions about what his religion requires him to believe about jihad or the rights and status of other religions and, for that matter, women. Such a candidate could announce that his is the religion of peace, denounce the questioner as racist, and leave it at that. But this approach precludes “the necessary questioning, the open questioning that must occur in order for Muslims to take their full place in this country’s political society.”
Anderson undertakes to outline principles that can help us define “what religious questions should be in-bounds and what should be out of founds in a tolerant, liberal polity.” Readers may disagree with his guidelines; indeed, some may find his piece as a whole dispiriting and perhaps infuriating. Yet it is well worth reading from start to finish.
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