I'm constantly amused, pleased, and troubled by post-secular musings like this. The "return to religion" hailed by sociologists, philosophers, and political theorists should be encouraging insofar as my work in theology... in a religious community... is represented under this "return". But (setting aside the silly notion that we had even gone elsewhere to begin with), I am troubled by the way that religion is often framed theoretically by these (now) interested parties.
It struck me the other day when reading an article about Muslim piety that religion tends to only attract wide interest when it has political or social implications as defined by a public concern apart from the religious community itself. There is an increased interest in religious life, but often as a peculiarity... as a still-new spectacle in the public imagination. As much as Cladis attempts to offer his model as a successful alternative to religious domination or marginalization, I'm not convinced that the "variegated" public landscape he maps out takes religion seriously enough, or is self-critical enough concerning "the public sphere".
As an example, here are two assertions made by Cladis, each of which seems to put the other in question [bolds are mine, and his emphases are not carried over]:
"A working assumption in this model is that public voices will usually be varied in form and content. Some voices may be explicitly religious; others may be explicitly non-religious. But these distinctions do not matter, according to this model, because no voice is treated as a special case. Or, to say the same thing differently, liberty of conscience and freedom of speech deem that each voice is a special case worthy of a hearing."
"The Evangelical Environmental Network, for example—which is concerned about the relation between hurricanes, climate change, and the poor—is lobbying Congress to enact laws to stem global warming.
The proposed model would allow into the public realm these evangelical voices and their religious arguments that address environmental policy. It would not, however, permit government funding for evangelical groups to administer environmental programs, insofar as these groups promote a distinctively theological point of view in the delivery of services."
Cladis' point in arguing that "religion is not special" is that religion is not categorically special, but rather shares a place in a variegated public with other voices. This is clear enough in his description of free exercise, but when he moves to the question of establishment it appears that religion is quite "special", and not in a way that can be approved for public consumption. Does Cladis' change of policy stem from the fact that we're not dealing with religious "voices" now, but rather a "delivery of services"? Such justification seems rather weak to me. Presumably (in this model) a public investment in public religion (via its services) accepts such services on the basis of a religion that has already been deemed "not a special case" as regards its public voice... that is, on the basis of the public argument made by this religious voice for public programs without paticular reference to the religion as a public good itself. What, then, prevents government funding for religious programs that have not been proposed by a special religious voice, not been accepted by special religious criteria, and not been enforced for special religious reasons?
In other words, what changes between the "initial" case that Cladis speaks of and the eventual exclusion of religion from the public sphere? He writes, "this model goes on to acknowledge that, in some sense, religion is a special subject (in light of particular socio-historical circumstances). " Does this mean that its special status is circumstantial? If so, how strong an argument can he really make? Does this model then offer any prescriptive word to situations of Shari'a tradition, or secularist regimes? It doesn't seek to alter an American form of separation, but would it try to impose one in a different societal situation? I don't think it could or should, if it tried.
So the model seems stuck between being incoherent because of its leap from public religious voice to disallowance of religious sponsorship, or else impotent before custom and historical circumstance in modelling anything about whether and how religion is a "special subject" in public life. I think this results from the fact that it is still more or less rooted in a secularist framing of the public that cannot understand religion properly... rather than stopping at critiquing Habermas' conception of religion as a "special language", Cladis should recognize that he is setting up the language (or the language rules) of secular public discourse as "special", when it is in reality nothing of the sort.