Michael W. McConnell is Professor of Constitutional Law at Stanford University and specializes in Church and State issues. A few weeks ago, he was one of the keynote speakers at the 6th Congress of the ICLARS ("International Consortium for Law and Religious Studies"), of which we recently discussed in Omnes. More than 400 congress participants gathered to reflect on "Human Dignity, Law, and Religious Diversity: Designing the Future of Intercultural Societies".
In European countries, some people think that politicians with Christian convictions should not be allowed to hold public office because of the bias of their beliefs. What do you think of this argument?
In a free country with separation of church and state, citizens of all religions, or none, have the same right to hold public office and to defend their conception of the common good on the basis of whatever belief system they find convincing. This applies to Christians as well as to Jews, Muslims, atheists and all others. In the United States, this openness to all faiths is specifically reflected in Article VI of the Constitution: "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." As for claims of "bias," some people need to look in the mirror.
Is it possible to separate the private and public spheres, and to what extent is it a good thing to do so?
Civil liberties law necessarily subjects the public sphere to a different set of rules than the private sphere. For example, the state is obliged to be neutral in respects that private individuals are not. This is especially true with respect to religion. We are all entitled to regard certain religious views as true and others as false. The state has no such role.
Michael Sandel argues that in Western societies there has been no real public debate on many controversial moral issues (abortion, euthanasia, surrogacy, same-sex marriage, etc.). Do you agree with this idea?
Certainly not, although some people on both sides are so sure of their positions that they try to silence dissenters. I do agree with Sandel that the public discussion on some of these issues is less robust and less informed than I would like.
In many countries, some laws considered "morally progressive" do not receive sufficient parliamentary support, but are approved in constitutional court rulings. What do you think of this approach?
I believe that courts are properly limited to enforcing the constitutional norms that have been adopted by the people through the various processes of constitutional formation. Courts have no right to usurp the legislative function by imposing legal standards solely on the basis that judges deem them "progressive" (or normatively attractive in any other sense). Roe v. Wade is the most conspicuous example in the United States.
Speaking of Roe v. Wade, as an expert on the U.S. Constitution, what is your opinion of the new Supreme Court ruling?
Roe v. Wade was one of the most poorly reasoned opinions in the history of the Supreme Court. It was not based on any plausible reading of the constitutional text, nor on the Court's precedents, nor on the longstanding traditions and practices of the American people.
What is your opinion of the woke culture and cancellation with respect to its impact on academia?
I disapprove of all extremism, including woke extremism, and all efforts at mass censorship. Homogeneity of opinion within academia in the United States is a serious threat to liberal education. This would also be true if academia were unilateral and intolerant in support of any other ideology.
The gender vision is receiving more and more social and legal approval in the legislation of many countries. Gradually, those who do not agree with these ideas find it more and more difficult to educate their children according to their convictions or to develop a professional work (for example in the medical field) according to their anthropological vision. Do you think that the freedom of thought and expression of people who have a more conservative vision is respected?
Clearly, no. People's thinking about gender and sex flows rapidly, and one extreme view should not be treated as the only authoritative one. People have a human right to have a different view, and parents have a human right not to have public institutions impose a particular ideology on their children.