Educational pluralism requires, in part, a political theory that legitimates the presence of belief (both religious and secular) in the public square while insisting upon state neutrality with respect to the content of that belief. Charles Taylor and Jocelyn Maclure’s Secularism and Freedom of Conscience offers one such argument. The book was originally written in French and intended for Canadians struggling with the growing cultural, religious and linguistic tensions in their pluralistic democracy. Secularism and Freedom of Conscience is a sketch – unlike the 800-page manuscripts we are accustomed to from Charles Taylor. However, like anything this eminent social theorist and political activist writes, it’s worth reading.
Maclure and Taylor start by distinguishing between two types of secularism, which they call the “republican” and the “liberal-pluralist.” The republican version favors a common civic identity shorn of sectarian particularity, which “requires marginalizing religious affiliations and forcing them back into the private sphere.” The republican version of secularism assigns the highest priority to moral equality before the law and is therefore wary of favoring or even accommodating differences based upon core beliefs. A private citizen may wear a Star of David, but a district judge may not. A Muslim girl may wear a headscarf at home but not at a public school. Religion becomes an essentially private affair.