Douglas Laycock

89 Texas L. Rev. 949

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In this piece, Laycock responds to reviews of his work by Thomas Berg, Steven Smith, and Jay Wexler.  Professor Smith argues that Laycock has let his views on religion drive his views on religious liberty, a form of the Puritan mistake.  Laycock notes that he is a secular agnostic who respects believers and thinks that both “sides” should win on some issues and lose on others.  He writes that it is only to the extent we distinguish our views on religious liberty from our views on religion that religious liberty can contribute towards solving the underlying problem.

Laycock has also recasted religious reasons for adopting a regime of religious liberty in secular terms, and Professors Berg and Smith criticize Laycock for attempting to justify religious liberty in exclusively secular terms.  So, Laycock clarifies his position: he does not mean to exclude religious arguments from the public debate or foreclose public officials from relying on religious motivations.  Rather, he means that government cannot announce its commitment to a disputed religious proposition.  Laycock emphasizes that he is not concerned whether government officials have religious motivations, but that the laws and actions of government remain neutral towards religion.

Professor Berg also raises a different objection, which is that the case for religious liberty is weakened when we omit religious reasons.  Laycock notes that he himself emphasizes religious reasons for religious audiences, but he argues that such reasons are useless for secular audiences.  And to justify religious liberty in a religiously diverse society, the reasons given must not require acceptance or rejection of any propositions of religious faith.

Professor Smith criticizes Laycock for counting the alienation of nonbelievers as a reason to keep the government from endorsing religious belief but not counting the parallel alienation of believers who expect government to endorse their beliefs.  Laycock notes that this is only one reason among others for why he thinks government should refrain from taking positions on religious questions.  He writes that it is incoherent to the concept of religious liberty to allow one religious group, such as conservative Christians, to have the right to use the instruments of government to exercise their religion.

Professor Smith also questions Laycock’s resistance to generic endorsement like the national motto.  Laycock notes that, in practice, there will always be a de minimis exception.  Often such generic endorsements are not really that controversial, but Laycock writes that this is less and less true as the nonbelieving population continues to grow.

After addressing several other considerations and objections, Laycock concludes that the criticisms in these reviews will help inform his future work, for which he is indebted.