Hadley Arkes, a senior fellow with the Claremont Institute and professor at Amherst College, critiqued the David French – Sohrab Ahmari debate last Thursday in a piece for The American Mind.

The title of his article I agree with. It’s called “Moral Relativism is our True Constitutional Enemy.

The foundational premise of his article I do not. He states that viewpoint neutrality is moral relativism. Discussing the 1982 Supreme Court decision in Widmar v. Vincent that French cited during the debate he wrote:

When the Court brought that teaching to bear on the problem of Evangelicals at the University of Missouri, it produced this ironic outcome: The Court would sustain a right on the part of the religious to have access to the rooms at a public university, but not because there was anything especially legitimate or salutary about religion in the life of a republic. Rather, the Christians couldn’t be ruled out because it was not legitimate any longer to make discriminations based on the “content” of the speech. The Christians couldn’t be barred for the same reason that the University could no longer rule out Leninists, Nazis, or Satanists.

And there was the alarm, for that was exactly the doctrine that David French was not only accepting but celebrating. The Widmar case had come to represent, for him, “viewpoint-neutral access to public facilities.” He went on to say, “Viewpoint neutrality is what we must defend. I want drag queens to come into a relation with Jesus Christ, but I am not going to usurp the Constitution to do this.”

First, French celebrated the results that decision provided, not the particular doctrine or every argument made. Second, this represented a shift because the trend was the exclusion of Christian groups, barring access due to previous court precedents that attempted to push religion out of the public square under the banner of separation of church and state.

Also, viewpoint neutrality is not moral relativism. Viewpoint neutrality does not make a truth claim. Moral relativism does. Moral relativism rejects absolute truth – it’s adherents reject that something can be true for all people, places, and time. It takes differing viewpoints, perhaps contradictory viewpoints, and says both are true for those who believe them and they are equally valid.

Viewpoint neutrality, in terms of public institutions, looks at different worldviews, groups, and says both can have access to the public square, facilities, and we will not favor one and reject the other. It doesn’t make a truth claim; it just says we will treat everyone equally under the law. It recognizes we live in a pluralistic society.

Moral relativism, as Arkes points out, is our true constitutional enemy, because if there is no absolute truth there is no foundational truth upon which our nation and laws are founded and our nation then sits on shifting sand.

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