What are the ground rules in democratic discourse?

In response to my last post, a commenter sharply observes:

But I must admit that creationists, i.e. fundamentalist Christians, when they were in the ascendant also imposed their values on others. So in a sense, they’re getting what they formerly dished out.

This observation is spot on. Fundamentalist Christians did–and do–try to impose their values on others. But so do scientists. So do Democrats, Republicans, socialists, libertarians, communists, fascists, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, environmentalists and pacifists. Everyone tries, and always has tried, to impose their values on others. I don’t think Christians are unique in that respect. That impulse is part and parcel of both being human and living in a democracy. It would be helpful to recognize and acknowledge this universal impulse.

So the question is: since we all want to impose our views on others, what are the ground rules we can agree on? What forms of institutions and governing structures allow all groups to proselytize but does not give anyone an unfair advantage? How do we get closer to the ideal described in Democracy 101?

One way is to have the same standards for everyone at all times. And that’s where I think we’re massively failing when it comes to certain Christians. There are sophisticated arguments you can use to restrict personal freedom. But America has increasingly shied away from such arguments. We’ve instead adopted the principle of no-harm: do what you want as long as it doesn’t injure anyone. I have no problem with that approach as long as we don’t arbitrarily abandon it. Again–there is no persuasive evidence that rejecting evolution is harmful. So why do we oppose creationists? I’ve been down this road before. I’ll be expanding in the coming posts.

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