Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 90, 2016

Justice: Then and Now

V. Bradley Lewis
Pages 71-84

Religious Liberty and the Limits of Rawlsian Justice

Religious freedom is included among the basic liberties to which persons are entitled in John Rawls’s account of Justice as Fairness. Rawls’s revised presentation of this as a political conception of justice in Political Liberalism aims to show how it can be (along with the other parts of Justice as Fairness) the focus of an overlapping consensus of reasonable comprehensive doctrines. As an example, Rawls contends that his understanding of religious freedom is consistent with that of the Roman Catholic Church, at least since the Second Vatican Council. I argue that he was mistaken in this in so far as other aspects of his political conception, especially its characterization of citizens as normatively having the power to form their own conceptions of the good, puts it at odds with the teaching of the Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis humanae. This suggests more generally that the limits of consensus in modern pluralist societies are greater than Rawls’s theory holds.