Recently I was invited to participate in a Religion and Law Conference at Florida State University. Almost all the other speakers and attendees were legal or religion scholars, from disciplines in which I’ve had no formal training.
My only “credential” to speak was as a former plaintiff in a South Carolina Supreme Court victory for atheists. In a conference session called “Legislating Conscience,” I described (to much amusement and agreement with my position) the legal roadblocks South Carolina had placed in my path in its failed attempt to maintain god belief as a requirement for public office. The conference, though, was not a “kumbaya” weekend because I disagreed with many speakers on issues they supported.
Almost all attendees were religious liberals, whose conference papers I’d roughly place in three categories: (1) objection to favoring mainstream religions over minority religions; (2) approval of selected government support for religion; (3) disputes over what legally constitutes a religion.
I agreed with all the cases presented in (1) and disagreed with all the cases presented in (2). My position was that government should never favor one religion over another or religion over non-religion.
The most interesting discussion for me was about (3), disputes over what legally constitutes religion, because I found all the attempts to define religion problematic. One speaker defined religion as “a sincerely held non-rational (i.e., faith based) belief concerning the nature of the universe.” Why, I asked, should our government privilege irrational beliefs over rational beliefs? Of course there are both theistic and nontheistic religions, the latter placing more emphasis on what adherents view as rational beliefs.
Written By: Herb Silvermancontinue to source article at washingtonpost.com