Citizens in robes: The place of religion in constitutional democracies

Cristina Lafont*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The normative place of religion in liberal democracies is as contested as ever. This contestation produces understandable fears that liberal democratic institutions may ultimately be incompatible with religious forms of life. If this is so, if there is genuinely no hope that secular and religious citizens can equally take ownership over and identify with these institutions, then the future of democracy within pluralist societies seems seriously threatened. These fears commonly arise in debates concerning the liberal criterion of democratic legitimacy, according to which citizens ought to justify the imposition of coercive policies on each other with reasons that everyone can reasonably accept. Since religious reasons are not generally acceptable to secular citizens and citizens of different faiths, endorsing this criterion entails accepting the claim that, for the purposes of political justification, public reasons should take priority over religious considerations. This claim has been vigorously criticized on two grounds. First, critics resist such a claim on the skeptical grounds that there is simply no such thing as public reasons, that is, a subset of reasons that all citizens can reasonably accept as having priority for justifying coercive policies. Second, critics contest the claim on the normative grounds that an unequal treatment of religious reasons for the purposes of political justification is unfair to religious citizens and is therefore incompatible with the core values of a liberal democracy. Against both lines of criticism, I articulate a defense of the priority of public reasons that is exclusively based on the normative commitments constitutive of liberal democratic institutions and which can therefore be reflectively endorsed by all democratic citizens, whether religious or secular.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-464
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophy and Social Criticism
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • deliberative democracy
  • democratic legitimacy
  • judicial review
  • public reasons
  • religion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Citizens in robes: The place of religion in constitutional democracies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this