Newman goes on to dissect the liberal hostility to public arguments which do not fit the criteria of "public reason": that is, "one[s] that can be affirmed by all citizens, whatever their conception of the good." He criticizes this Rawlsian obsession with "neutral" reasoning; distinguishing between motivations and ends, Newman argues that "so long as the policy objective is within the scope of the state's authority, its sponsors' motives are irrelevant..."
It should go without saying, of course, that I basically agree with him.
The Newman that he was referring to was the author of this article in Dissent about (Republican) Governor Bob Riley's courageous and well-intentioned attempt to reform the highly regressive Alabama tax code on the grounds that such an inequitable system went against Christian teachings. Newman claims that Riley was viewed with suspicion by those of us on the secular left because his motivations were not the public reasons that we use to support progressive taxation.
Well, Newman and Fox are essentially talking about me and this doesn't jibe with my recollection of how I felt about this. My opinion, as well as the maybe two or three like-minded people who I might have talked to about this, was (and is) that not only was Riley objectively doing the right thing, but that he was also accurately representing the teachings of his Christian faith (as I understand them) and deserved respect for that as well. I was initially a bit suspicious of his efforts, but that had more to do with the fact that his position as Governor was a complete reversal from his time in Congress, where he was one of the hawkiest of the anti-tax hawks. This suspicion was initially shared by the state Democratic party and other liberals (or what passes for liberal in Alabama), but once they got over this distrust, they joined Riley to move his tax bill through the legislature in the face of opposition from, among others, the Republicans and the Christian Coalition.
In fact, I don't recall any criticism of Riley because he was motivated by his Christian beliefs rather than secular reasons. And apparently Newman doesn't either, because he provides exactly no evidence to support this in his article. No quotes from secular liberals denouncing him because he is doing things for the wrong reasons. No voting records suggesting that the more liberal legislators deserted him when his tax bill came up for a vote. No polling data suggesting that secular Alabamans didn't back him when the referendum came up for a statewide vote. The only sort of attempt Newman makes to do this, in fact, is when he suggests something completely contrary to this thesis, which is that Riley failed not because he was deserted by secular supporters of progressive taxation but because he was abandoned by his own fellow religious Republicans, to whom his argument should have appealed. In short, Newman does nothing but set up a "hostile secular liberal" strawman and then knock it down.
And that's all he can do, because he completely misrepresents the position of secular Rawlsians like myself. We don't reject arguments for things that we agree with because they aren't public arguments but rather arguments for positions which can't be supported by any public reasons. This is not even a subtle distinction and I'm surprised that people of Newman's and Fox's intelligence and education fail to see it. As an example of how this distinction plays out in real life for me, I can easily make common cause with Riley on his issue of tax reform (although my involvement here is limited to moral support since I'm not from Alabama) or Catholics on the issue of the death penalty in spite of the fact that our reasons for taking these positions might be different. But on issues where I am in disagreement I can only be persuaded by these public arguments and any position which can't be so supported, such as being against gay marriage, won't earn my support or even my respect.
From my point of view, Newman's article seems to be self-indulgent complaining about how people of faith don't get the respect that they deserve. Or perhaps, in the abstract world of academia where Newman and Fox live, there are actually people who demand such secular purity. But in the real world, where I support real policy positions and want to see them implemented, I'm perfectly happy to work with people whose motivations are different than mine.