Stephen Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He has taught at Yale since 1982. Carter is known for his legal and social policy writings, which include Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, The Culture of Disbelief, and God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics. He has also written novels, including New England White and The Emperor of Ocean Park. Carter's areas of expertise include constitutional law, contracts, intellectual property law, secrets and lying, and law and religion. He clerked for Judge Spottswood W. Robinson III of the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals for and Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was educated at Stanford University and Yale, where he earned his law degree.
Question: What is religion's proper place in American society?
Stephen Carter: I really think it’s a bad idea when people try to design ways to create a public life, a public square that’s free of religion and “religion talk”, because then people ___________ comfortable talking. Some people like talking economic theory. Some people have a historical view of the world. Some people have a view of the world that comes from their faith. People’s views come from all different sources, and I think it’s important to have a public square that embraces these different ways of looking at the world. And if there’s something that I believe about public life, that’s really it; that it ought to be open, and we ought to really try to have actual dialogue. And the thing about dialogue, to make it real, is we have to engage in listening with our ears. What we tend to do in America is listen with our mouths. We tend to listen to the other fellow’s argument for the sole purpose of spotting the errors so we can refute it. The absurdity that they call presidential debates in America, which are not debates at all but joint press conferences run by and for the media, I think candidates should avoid them like the plague. They’re horrible. But that absurdity captures what I mean. There’s no time there for measured conversation. There’s no time there to explain a position. All you have time to do is lash out, call somebody a name, use the right buzz words and it’s somebody else’s turn. Well that’s not democracy. That’s a mockery. That is simply a . . . an excuse for avoiding what we really need, which is actual conversation across our differences instead of buzz words and name calling across our differences.
Recorded on: 7/25/07