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Why Tolerate Religion?

Why Tolerate Religion?

Brian Leiter
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Why Tolerate Religion?
    Book Description:

    This provocative book addresses one of the most enduring puzzles in political philosophy and constitutional theory--why is religion singled out for preferential treatment in both law and public discourse? Why, for example, can a religious soup kitchen get an exemption from zoning laws in order to expand its facilities to better serve the needy, while a secular soup kitchen with the same goal cannot? Why is a Sikh boy permitted to wear his ceremonial dagger to school while any other boy could be expelled for packing a knife? Why are religious obligations that conflict with the law accorded special toleration while other obligations of conscience are not?

    In Why Tolerate Religion?, Brian Leiter argues that the reasons have nothing to do with religion, and that Western democracies are wrong to single out religious liberty for special legal protections. He offers new insights into what makes a claim of conscience distinctively "religious," and draws on a wealth of examples from America, Europe, and elsewhere to highlight the important issues at stake. With philosophical acuity, legal insight, and wry humor, Leiter shows why our reasons for tolerating religion are not specific to religion but apply to all claims of conscience, and why a government committed to liberty of conscience is not required by the principle of toleration to grant exemptions to laws that promote the general welfare.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4485-2
    Subjects: Law, Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    A boy, age fourteen, enters his new middle school classroom on the first day of the year, wearing, as usual, his dagger. The teacher, alarmed, alerts the principal, who phones the police: carrying weapons is, of course, forbidden in school, and the police promptly confiscate the boy’s dagger.

    A straightforward case, perhaps, but not if the boy in question is a devout Sikh. For in the Sikh religion, male believers must wear akirpan, a dagger or sword, as a symbol of their religious devotion. In many jurisdictions, in both North America and Europe, Sikhs have had to challenge laws...

  5. CHAPTER I Toleration
    (pp. 5-25)

    Religious toleration has long been the paradigm of the liberal ideal of toleration of group differences, as reflected in both the constitutions of the major Western democracies and in the theoretical literature explaining and justifying these practices. The American Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”¹ As the German Constitution (or “Basic Law”) provides in Article 4, “Freedom of faith and of conscience, and freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, shall be inviolable,” adding, in a separate clause, “The undisturbed practice of religion shall be inviolable,”...

  6. CHAPTER II Religion
    (pp. 26-53)

    In asking whether there is somethingspecialabout religion that bears on religious toleration, we are not asking whether there is some feature (or features) of religious belief and practice that warrant principled toleration of religion on eithermoralorepistemicgrounds. There plainly are such features, for example, that religious beliefs are often matters ofconscience, and thus would fall within the scope of any argument, like the Rawlsian one, for protecting liberty of conscience. If there is a special reason to tolerate religion it has to be because there are features of religion that warrant toleration, and and...

  7. CHAPTER III Why Tolerate Religion?
    (pp. 54-67)

    In chapter 1, we considered three categories of principled arguments for toleration: two kinds of moral arguments, one deontological (illustrated by John Rawls), and one utilitarian; and an epistemic argument, exemplified by John Stuart Mill, though one ultimately based on utilitarian considerations as well. If I am right about the features that distinguish religious belief, is there any reason to think that principled toleration demands tolerance of those beliefsin particular?

    I think we may safely bracket the Rawlsian moral argument for toleration, since it is hard to see how persons in Rawls’s original position, operating behind the “veil of...

  8. CHAPTER IV Why Respect Religion?
    (pp. 68-91)

    I have so far assumed that the moral foundation of the law of religious liberty is to be found in the idea of principled toleration. But am I entitled to that assumption? Martha Nussbaum, for example, has recently argued for the attitude of “respect” as the moral foundation of religious liberty,¹ though, as I will suggest, her account is ambiguous between two senses of respect.² In particular, I shall claim that in one sense of respect (hereafter, “minimal” respect), it is compatible with nothing more than toleration of religion; and that in a different sense (hereafter, “affirmative” respect, and which...

  9. CHAPTER V The Law of Religious Liberty in a Tolerant Society
    (pp. 92-134)

    Let us briefly recap the conclusions of the arguments of the preceding chapters. Kantian and utilitarian traditions of moral thought generate compelling support for the conclusion that the state should protect liberty of conscience under the rubric of principled toleration. But there appears to be no equally principled argument that picks out distinctivelyreligiousconscience as an object of special moral and legal solicitude. Ifliberty of conscienceis morally important, then what should we do with respect to the extant law of religious liberty, which treats religious conscience as more important than any other kind—sometimes, as in America,...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 135-174)
    (pp. 175-180)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 181-188)