Compromises in the name of political liberalism are at best short-lived and at worst preferential towards modern paganism. Any worldview that finds meaning and purpose and epistemological grounding in this world rather than another will always marginalize the transcendent religionists to the outer periphery of society.
Can political liberalism and religious liberty (accommodation) coexist?
Similar argument made in Smith’s game-changing book Pagan and Christian in the City: “The Supreme Court might soon address this issue. Four Supreme Court justices (led by Justice Samuel Alito) began 2019 by suggesting their willingness to revisit a landmark decision with stark views on this question. In the 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, a five-justice majority (led by Justice Antonin Scalia) made it virtually impossible to secure, under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, religious-based exemptions to laws that apply to everyone and do not overtly or covertly discriminate against religion (what lawyers call “neutral laws of general applicability”). The Smith decision presumes a deep tension between religious exercise and the common good. In Smith’s view, the democratic process must almost always resolve that tension. Courts, therefore, almost always deny religious accommodation requests. Justice Alito and his colleagues, however, said Smith “drastically cut back on the protection provided by the Free Exercise Clause,” and effectively invited requests to reverse it.
Revisiting Smith possesses significant cultural salience. Many of today’s progressives, conservatives, and libertarians share — knowingly or not — Smith’s critical shortcoming: a failure to explain why religion in particular and religious exercise in particular should shape the common good, even when they go against the grain of secular visions adopted in law. Revisiting Smith provides an opening to address this shortcoming. The Court should take it, as this oversight puts the American tradition of self-government at stake.